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What Deployed Troops Really Want in Their Care Packages

Care Packages for Soliders

Being deployed to Iraq had its ups and downs, but receiving packages from home definitely made the time I spent there less stressful.

The best part is, through a few great programs, anyone can send a care package and you don’t even need to know the soldier receiving it.

Whether it’s a loved one or someone you’ve never met, we’ve put together a useful guide on what to include, what to avoid and how to send your care package overseas.

What to Include in your Care Package

Some of the best care packages I received were the ones that had practical items in it. We don't have a whole lot of room for clutter, so sometimes the things that are most important to us are the most useful things that help us do our job.

Don't forget to seal everything in plastic zip-lock bags. This protects your care package from the elements and the soldier from receiving snacks that taste like soap.

Personal and Practical Items

We're on our feet a lot when we're deployed, so some of the best items were those that helped keep us dry, clean and comfortable. Items like:

  • High-quality socks (I have to put this first, because some high-quality socks will make the toughest soldier smile with delight)
  • Soap (shampoo, body wash, face wash, etc.)
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush and floss
  • Deodorant (travel size/non-aerosol)
  • Lip balm
  • Foot powder
  • Baby wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pain-relieving topical cream (not a necessity, but can be a real luxury)
  • Vicks VapoRub
  • Hand Warmers
  • Sewing kits
  • Lens cleaning cloths

I was stationed in the Middle East and our goggles often were clouded by dirt and sand in the air. Instead of relying on a t-shirt to clean them, lens cleaning cloths and small bottles of glass cleaner come in handy.

Also, baby wipes and sunscreen were plentiful for us on our base, but your service member might need these.

Downtime Activities

For as many moments of action service members face, there's plenty of downtime as well. If you're twiddling your thumbs and waiting while in the US, you have the luxury of pulling out your smartphone and killing a little bit of time. Overseas, we don't always have that luxury, so we have to have our own fun.

Some items to consider include:

  • Reading material (magazines, books or an e-reader like a Kindle)
  • Handheld video games
  • Board games
  • Decks of cards
  • iPod or thumb drives with movies, music and pictures
  • Puzzles
  • Plastic model kits
  • Baseball gloves/baseballs
  • Batteries (AAs and AAAs)
  • Pencils
  • 3M wall hooks

Really anything that could help decompress from a stressful day and focus on something else.

Food and Snacks

The best way to most anyone's heart is through their stomach, and deployed service members are no different.

While there's enough food to go around on base, much of it can be a little bland, and the variety is lacking. Try including some of the following:

  • Hot sauce (a great commodity to have around, and the convenience of Taco Bell sauce packets are great to have in the field)
  • Water flavoring packets (many places we are deployed are very hot, and we need to constantly remain hydrated)
  • Beef jerky
  • Slim Jims
  • Protein bars
  • Gum
  • Sunflower seeds

As with anything you send, it needs to be non-perishable. Sending homemade cookies or soft candies halfway around the world just won't cut it. And please don't send food in the same package as you do shampoo or other toiletries — there's nothing worse than getting some treats from home covered in soap.

Sentimental Things

While all of the above are great, sometimes we just need an extra boost of confidence from home. While emails are convenient, they don't have the same poignancy and convey the same emotion as a hand-written letter.

While we're away, remember to take videos of everything: baby's first steps, parties, family get-togethers, and even just lounging around the house. Put some of those on a USB drive and send it, too.

What not to Send

Not everything is suitable for a care package. Here’s a few things to avoid:

  • DON’T send adult entertainment, alcohol or drugs (these items are illegal and can get the soldier in trouble)
  • DON’T send aerosols or pressurized products
  • DON'T send firearms or ammunition (we're already armed and this is illegal)
  • DON’T send perishable foods
  • DON’T send an entire box of the same thing unless requested (variety is a good thing)

Overall, keep in mind that whatever you send may not make it in the condition you expect. Along the way, things might get wet, break, freeze or be in shipping containers for a period of time.

Where to Send your Care Package

Even if you don’t have family or friends overseas, you can still send a care package to a deployed soldier. The DOD has vetted and recommends the following non-profits: https://dod.defense.gov/Resources/Community-Resources/carepackages/.

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