Being deployed to Iraq had its ups and downs, but receiving packages from home definitely made the time I spent there less stressful.
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.
While it's nice to get a sentimental touch every once and a while, here's a look at what service members really want in their care packages, besides their dream home. (If that's what you're looking for, now's a great time to get started on your VA loan.)
For as many moments of intense 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.
Just like many people in their 20s and 30s, service members love playing video games, and it gives us a way to kill some time while having a little bit of competition between us. Board games and cards are much the same. Movies are also great to send, as is music. An iPod loaded with some of both would be fantastic.
For more solitary activities, books are an awesome thing to put in a care package, as is an e-reader loaded with a bunch of books. Many military members love plastic model kits — they're a great way to decompress from a stressful day and focus on something else.
We're on our feet a lot when we're deployed. Accordingly, our feet can take a beating. The best way for us to keep our feet dry, clean and comfortable is with clean socks and foot powder. Things like high-quality body wash, Vicks VapoRub, lip balm, and pain-reliving topical cream like IcyHot aren't a necessity, but they can be a real luxury!
Things are sandy in the Middle East, and our goggles often get clouded by dirt 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. Baby wipes and sunscreen were plentiful for us on our base, but your service member might need these.
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. Hot sauce is a great commodity to have around, and the convenience of Taco Bell sauce packets are great to have in the field. Similarly, many places the armed forces are deployed to are very hot, and we need to constantly remain hydrated. Flavoring packets that make water taste like lemon, strawberry or orange are ideal.
Beef jerky and sunflower seeds are great treats, but for a little bit of local flavor, try something that your loved one can't get overseas, like a bottle of barbecue sauce from a local restaurant.
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.
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 did you like to receive when you were deployed? Leave a message in the comments.