When I was preparing to deploy overseas back in 2009, each member of my family expressed their desire to send me care packages. I very much appreciated their enthusiasm, since this was their way of supporting me throughout my deployment. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to receive my first care package on my deployment at sea. Just the sight of my mother’s handwriting on the box put a smile on my face.
Shortly after that first care package came, all outside communication was halted in order to protect the ship from exposure during a sensitive operation. For months, all of us troops aboard the ship could not communicate with our loved ones, but we could receive mail. Unfortunately, many people stopped sending mail when communication lines shut down. Without having their service member’s confirmation that the package was received, many family members thought that their packages had never reached the destination and became discouraged. Little did our families know we were counting down the days until the next mail call. During the long absence of the phone and e-mail communications, snail mail was highly treasured.
It was about this time that I began noticing that there were things that I needed and wanted that I simply could not purchase on the ship. And because all phone and e-mail had been stopped, I was unable to request it from those friends and family members who were eager to send mail.
Perhaps you have a daughter, sister, friend, or significant other who is deployed, and you are finding yourself wondering what to send her. I have a small list of things that I would have very much appreciated during my deployment that you may find useful.
- Hairbands and bobby pins. Just like at home, these hair accessories seem to inexplicably vanish and can be difficult to replace.
- Magazines. In some small way, reading about celebrity gossip and fashion trends is a good distraction from deployment life.
- Simple drug store items. Natural sleep aids, pain relievers, and cough drops are always appreciated for those days when your service member is not feeling so hot, but not sick enough to go see the doc.
- Handwritten letters with pictures. In the event of a communications shut-down, a letter will always reach your service member. The personal touch of a handwritten note and printed picture is a great reminder of home that can be carried in a pocket.
- Trending books. Perhaps the best care package I received was from my sister, and contained nothing but microwave popcorn and the Twilight Saga (which I am embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed). Look for books that will soon be converted to movies. The opportunity to read books that everyone back home is reading will give your service member something in common with those back home. Then, go see the movie together when she returns.
- Fitness items. I cannot stress this one enough. Sports bras, protein bars, hard-plastic water bottles, and healthy snacks were some of the most valued items that came through the mail. Most everyone on a deployment uses their free time to work out and will appreciate your support in their fitness goals. Perhaps send your service member a book about a new fitness trend, protein powder, or some resistance bands. Some fitness websites will even ship to FPO/APO addresses for free, allowing you to get fitness items to your service member faster and cheaper than traditional mail.
When it comes to care packages, know that the military does a good job of providing basic needs. Feminine hygiene items, toothpaste, and soap are usually widely available. Also note that troops often have a limited amount of space, and bulky items can be more burdensome than helpful.
It is also important to know that deployed service members share the love that you send. Care packages are almost always shared amongst friends and coworkers. Often, we would open care packages in front of each other similar to how families open gifts together on Christmas. We would ooh and ahh as each item would some out of the box. Know that when you send a service member mail, you are really sending it to your service member and five of their friends! Whatever you choose to send, it will find its way to someone who needs it. Happy packing!