Thanks to everybody who wrote such kind emails and comments during a tough day yesterday.
And many more thanks to those who are considering sending letters or care packages through Any Soldier. I honestly did not anticipate that, yet hundreds of you are clicking through to the site which means quite a lot to me. If only I had mentioned it sooner!
For those who have questions about this very worthy organization, I urge you to visit their site and read as much as you can. But, on top of that, I'll go ahead and add some things I've learned...
First of all, it is not necessary to spend $300 like I did. I was buying for four people, and went overboard because I was able to and wanted to. Anything you send is appreciated, and spending a fortune is not required. Even if you can afford to send nothing at all, you can still write a letter because all it costs you is a stamp. It has been said over and over again that the most requested items from soldiers are letters. Not everybody overseas gets much mail. Knowing that somebody... even a stranger... cares enough to write does more for their morale than you can imagine (hand-written letters show that you put the time in to care, and seem more personal than laser-printed letters or photocopies).
When it comes to what to say to a serviceman or servicewoman, it's always best to remember who you are writing to... somebody living in very dangerous conditions, far from home, who is missing their family and friends. It's also important to remember why you are writing... to offer encouragement and support. With that in mind, you can just put aside your personal opinions about the war being all f#@%ed up. Nobody knows this better than they do, and they don't need to be told that. Instead, try and realize that most of the people serving are doing the best they can to make a better, safer life for native Iraqis or Afghanis whose lives have been torn apart by war. This is what keeps them going through these very confusing times, and acknowledging that is a good place to start. Tell them what's happening back home. Tell them they are appreciated. Let them know you care.
When I send care packages, I usually don't have time to write, so I enclose simple notecards (with Lil' Dave dressed in Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine attire as appropriate)...
It's nothing extravagant, just a little note to say that I'm thinking of them, caring about them, and wishing them well along with sending a box of stuff. Hopefully it's enough to give a soldier a smile.
I always include my email address, just in case a soldier wants to write back and say "thanks" or even request something special they need. But it is critical to remember one thing... not all soldiers are able to write back!! They say this over and over on the Any Soldier site, yet I still visit forums and read about people complaining because they never got a thank-you note. This kind of thing drives me nuts, because these people have no clue as to what they are talking about. Just because you don't hear back doesn't mean your thoughts and gifts are unappreciated. It's nice when it happens, but I never expect it.
If you are interested in helping out, I've put further information in an extended entry. Otherwise, I will be traveling for the next 10 days, so entries may be posted late depending on whether I have internet or not...
The biggest question I've gotten is something along the lines of "Why do we need to send stuff? Aren't soldiers given everything they need?" The answer, as you might expect, is no. They are, at most, given the very basics... and even that is in limited supply. For example, these guys and gals are marching and hiking all the time, and their socks give out well-before their allotted time. This means people are walking around in harsh conditions with shredded socks which is unhealthy and uncomfortable. Food too is very basic. All the snack foods you enjoy are a rare treat unless somebody bothers to send it. "Just surviving" is a pretty harsh way to live, especially under constant threat, so sending treats and supplies is vital to morale and even survival.
• Socks? Seriously? Yes. And remember they will be worn in extreme temperature conditions, so 100% cotton is a must. Don't bother with poly or poly-blends, they just make your feet sweat and the situation worse. Also... I pre-launder the socks and include a note telling the recipient that they are clean and can be worn immediately. Clothing is often treated with formaldehyde and other chemicals, and it's not good to have that on your skin. Sending some foot-powder along with the socks keeps feet healthy and soldiers happy.
• Clothing. Sending clothes is always dicey, and I usually don't unless it's on the soldier's "wish list" (and then it's usually good-quality T-shirts). When buying clothing, remember the harsh conditions under which it will be worn, and purchase quality goods accordingly. Just like socks, I pre-launder any clothing, and bag it well to keep it clean so they can wear it right away.
• Bag and wrap everything. Liquids can rupture and ruin your entire package, so always double-bag them (I use tough freezer bags). Candies can attract insects and other critters so bag it. Smaller items can be lost, so put them together in bags.
• Box smartly! Don't put food items and toiletries in the same box. The high heat causes even sealed products to release their fragrance and it will then seep into other packaging. Those Ritz crackers you sent will end up tasting like shampoo or deodorant no matter what you do, so box them separately. Also, try to use smaller boxes weighing 10 pounds or less so they are easy to manage.
• Use flat-rate boxes. The post office has boxes which are charged at a fixed rate no matter how much they weigh. This can save you lots of money in postage, and I use them whenever I can.
• Pack it up securely. Don't ever use string, but use lots of tape. Over-tape everything. Double-tape corners. Plaster the bottom of the box in tape in case it gets set on something wet. Your box will go through absolute hell before it arrives, and you should plan for it.
• Don't forget the ladies! There are women overseas too, and it's important they not be forgotten. Being a guy, I don't know what the heck women want or need, so I have somebody shop for me. I've read several times that the ladies like to have occasional "girlie" time, so I always try to include exotic shampoos and soaps in their packages (AND BE SURE THEY ARE DOUBLE-BAGGED AND BOXED SEPARATELY FROM FOOD!).
• Don't forget the sailors! The most visual images on television and in the news is of Army soldiers and Marines... but there are Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel serving in dangerous areas far from home too, and I try to send to them as well because I think they can be overlooked.
• Don't forget the kids! Sending small, non-breakable toys so that soldiers can make friends with local kids is a very nice thing to do. "Beanie Babies" are a popular choice, because they are compact and travel well. Be sure to bag them so they don't get dirty! Please remember to respect local customs and not send Christmas-themed or military-type toys and such. Different people have different beliefs and there is nothing wrong with that. Remember that children are children the world over, and caring about their happiness is building a future.
• Sending food? How will they eat it? I am forever forgetting to include some plastic knives, forks, and spoons for the canned foods I send. I then spend the next week feeling terrible, because I know that soldiers don't always have eating utensils available. Try to include them when you can. Likewise, it's nice if they can clean-up after eating, so include some moistened towlettes.
• Follow the rules. Certain items are not permitted for practical reasons or out of respect for local culture. Don't send anything containing nudity or pornography. Don't send ham or pork products of any kind. Don't send anything illegal. They don't need any more trouble than they've already got.
• Don't send crappy shit. I'm not saying you have to buy the best and most expensive of everything, but try and remember what you are trying to do here. Ask any guy... shaving in harsh environments is killer on your face. Do you really want to send them cheap-ass "6 for $1" razors? If your budget is tight, send a few GOOD razors instead of a bunch of shitty ones. Shaving gel is the same. Weak-ass crap does nothing to protect your face and prevent razor-burn... get the stuff in tubes that is good for them. Buy food that you would want to eat, not gross crap you find in the bargain bin. Send them foods they know and want to eat... it's money well-spent.
• Don't send anything breakable. Glass is just stupid... it will never make it. Can you imagine the happiness on a soldiers face as he gets a care package, only to open it and find everything busted to shit? Think about the durability of every item you send.
• Follow your conscience. As a vegetarian, I don't like to see animals killed for food. But, I realize not everybody shares my beliefs, and am able to put them aside to purchase much-loved beef jerkey and soups. That being said, there are some items I will not send, and that's okay. You are trying to do a good thing, and whatever your conscience allows will be greatly appreciated.
• Don't break your budget. Helping people is a wonderful feeling, and it's easy to get carried away. I always budget how much I can spend and am very careful not to exceed the amount.
• Check your address every time. Don't request an address unless you are ready to ship something that same day. Soldiers move around, get transfered, and are re-stationed all the time. Just because you sent to an address last month, doesn't mean it's any good this month... always check at Any Soldier to be sure you have a current address. Always.
As I said, most everything you need to know can be found at AnySoldier.com, and they have forums where people would be happy to help answer any questions you might have. Thanks again to all of you who would help with this very worthy cause... knowing that you are helping somebody out in a tough spot is a feeling unlike any other.
I love comments! However, all comments are moderated, and won't appear until approved. Are you an abusive troll with nothing to contribute? Don't bother. Selling something? Don't bother. Spam linking? Don't bother.
So, tasteful nudes of myself wouldn’t be a good thing to include?
Thank you for introducing me to this organization. Like many of us, I’m frustrated by the situation, and this is a great way to show those overseas how much we appreciate what they are doing, especially since WE are the ones who sent them there.
thanx for the info.. Looks like a worthwhile cause.. Safe travels and post when you can..
You succeed in making me cry.
Avitable, feel free to send your tasteful nudes to:
techwench [at_symbol] gmail.com.
You are like the philanthropy pimp ;).
Again, I admire your generosity and awesome spirit!
Talk about serendipity… today at work I came across a lady who was shopping for things to send to her son who was just recently sent to Iraq. I mentioned that I had just learned about the AnySoldier.com site, and she knew all about it. We had an interesting conversation before she had to go on her way. It really is a worthy organization – thanks for sharing it 🙂
Techwench, my definition of “tasteful” is “hairy gorilla man doing a split.” If it meshes with your definition, they’re yours!
Awesome, Dave. I’m spreading the word. (If you see a bunch of hits from a debt consolidation board…yeah, that’s mine.)
Avitable, I’m soooo there!!!111eleventyone!!
Sooo…if I can’t send palpable objects, can I just offer my mad skillz and fee blog designs/hosting to units (those who have internet access, anyway)? Hmmmmmm…
Anyone come across a Canadian version of this site? I can’t seem to find anything… 🙁 I’d love to do the same for the Canadians posted in Afganistan!
If I can’t find an equivalent site, I’m going to take Dave’s lead, and go a step further and put together care packages for the homeless people here in Vancouver to do my part, although, I’d really like to find a site dedicated to our soldiers!
Ah ha! I found it… For those Canadians wanting to support our troops… go here.
There’s also options from the official Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency page right here.
Look at all the detail and thought you’ve put into bringing those gifts together… Now that’s what I call a CARE package!
that’s so generous of you, dave. and your little lil’ dave toon is too cute. i hope today has been a better day for you.
Several of my family members have served or are serving currently, so I’m constantly sending them care packages and letters both for themselves and for the men and women they serve with. They are certainly not shy about making demands of me (because hey, I’m family) and are especially fond of eye-drops, baby wipes, hard candies, and all the shaving cream I can get my hands on. This semester I started some ongoing initiatives with my students, and they seem to enjoy donating back issues of all the magazines they get!
It’s a great thing, and I’ve got some lovely emails in response 🙂
I was kind of hoping to see Little Dave in a flamenco outfit…
Thanks Dave…Looks good on ya.
I will be checking out the site tomorrow. I don’t have much money – but letters are something I can deffinately do. I like your method of dealing with depression… it seems healthy. I hope you are feeling better.
Cool. Safe travels, Dave.
Thanks for putting my crappy week into proper perspective…
One thing my brother always liked to get — socks aside — was new white undershirts. Cotton.
i can’t believe people are complaining about not being thanked- ok i CAN believe it but it’s so annoying. what ever happened to people being generous for the sake of others, for the sake of being generous? ugh!
i’m great at letters but low on cash so i am glad to know i can participate. thanks for telling us about this dave. safe travels.
Yeah, see Dave this is what keeps me coming back. Even though five days out of seven I think you’re a hysterical wanker, you remain an extraordinary and inspiring one.
I’m going to be making up a few care packages this weekend. Your comment about the women serving just got me thinking of the luxury type things I would miss…I’m hitting the mall for some good lotions and other girlie stuff.
Thanks so much for this post Dave! And I hope your feeling better. Be safe traveling 🙂
Just be sure the unit (or name) you are sending to has women in it! 🙂
This sounds like a great organiztion. My next door neighbor is in Balad for six months. It has got to be tough.
This is why I love you, Dave. Excellent suggestions and such a huge heart. Stop trying to make us all believe you’re so tough. You’re not such a badass after all.
Thanks for the info, grandson just went back to Afghanistan for 6 months. He requested 2ply toilet paper and cookies, so am getting a box for him. I am in Florida but still a Canuck so my heart is with the Canadian Army, so keep up the good work.
As an Old Soldier
1) THANK YOU!!!!
2) The guys on the sharp end are a long way from the PX, so the CARE packages are welcomed!
2) Suggestions (in no particular order) based on experience. This is the ideal, obviously not everyone can afford to do this, but “many hands make light work” and every bit helps.
A) Please ONLY 100 percent cotton socks, Tee shirts, UW, etc…Even under Nomex which protects the flesh from flame, nylon melts from the heat of a fire, causes HORRENDOUS burns and fuses with the flesh making surgery very difficult! This is based on research from Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston which is a world leader on treating burn patients.
Any sort of clothing or web gear should be tan, green or black (My rule in the units I led was you could wear whatever you wanted in the field as long as it was green or black)
No logos or slogans on the clothing – that might offend the natives (more than you suspect speak some English….and they ALL have a cousin in Brooklyn!). And, yes, something like a Univerity of Notre Dame sweatshirt MIGHT be considered provocative (Christian Saint)…why take the chance?
B) Sunglasses – Easily broken or lost
C) Work gloves – Lots of broken glass, shattered concrete, etc to cut up hands
D) “Swiss Army” type knife – Why do think they gave it that name? The US Army has its own version, I had to buy mine at Army surplus.
E) Paperback novel (Western, Mystery or Advnture) and/or Graphic novel (complete in one issue, not part of a series with the frustration of “to be continued”), Car magazine, Huntin’ n Fishin’ magazine. Be careful with the Mens’ magazines …we’re >guests
F) Pocket flashlight – the military doesn’t issue a flashlight to every man
G) Pens, pocket notebook (for operation orders, duty rosters, list of supplies needed, etc), stationary (to write home), postage is free from combat zones so no need for stamps
H) Prepaid Phone Card
I) Weapons Maintenance in the dust and grime of the desert is vital. A weapon malfunction can get you killed. The military tries, but there always seem to be shortages. So consider pipe cleaners and a toothbrush (cheap one is fine) from the drugstore. Patches and a plastic bottle of gun lube from your local Huntin’ n Fishin’ place will also help – ask the counterman for the brand he recommends.
J) Disposable camera – For the memories as Bob Hope used to say…can also be used to shoot something interesting while on patrol and passed on to the S2 (Intelligence Officer) for analysis
K) Boot Laces – Also used as lanyards aka “idiot strings” to keep small items of personal equipment from getting lost. I had one for my pocket knife, one for my flashlight and another for my compass tying them to my Load Bearing Equipment (“Web Gear” or “TA-50”)
1 – Hard candy, Trail Mix, Jerky – US Army Pacific in World War Deuce developed the Assault Ration with these ingredients for troops in amphibious landings and it was well liked. I always carried one or more of these items in my rucksack.
2 – Alas the US Army doesn’t issue le Pinard – which has fueled La Legion Etranger for over a century – nor the famous Vinogel (dried powdered red wine, just add water and stir – when Dien Bien Phu was about to fall to the Viet Minh, the French actually airdropped Vinogel into the perimeter so the legionaires could celebrate Camerone Day properly). Ahh well…We’ll make do with powdered drink packets to cut the industrial tasting water
3 – Canned fruit, puddings, meats, sardines, etc
4 – Cookies, packed in a tin so they dn’t get crushed.
5 – Condiments – Tabasco sauce, etc! Brightens up the MRE’s (“Meals Rejected by Everyone” – they’re actually quite good – they just get monotonous) & T-Rations. One of the brightest days I can remember is when the Chaplain pulled up in his M151 towing a trailer and started passing out boxes from the McIlhenny Company. It had donated a bottle of Tabasco Sauce along with a webbing pouch to attach to our LBE and a little “C-Ration Cookbook” on how to create something interesting out of Charlie Rats. It was based on letters they had gotten from GI’s in Vietnam. Example – GI Reece’s Bars – spread canned peanut butter saved from accessory pack on top of canned chocolate wafers (“John Wayne Bars”). Surprisingly good. The bottle of Tabasco is long gone, but I still have the pouch and cookbook and McIlhenny has a customer for life.
M) Disposable Dust masks – Paint department of the hardware store. Vehicles in convoy kick up a lot of dust and there are also dust storms
N) Personal Maintenance – Comb, Brush, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Disposable Razor, Shaving Cream, Aftershave, Deoderant, Mirror, Disposable Towelettes, Lip Balm, Sunscreen, Skin Cream, Sewing Kit (Needles, Thread, Buttons), First aid kit (Bandaids, Ointment, Spray Disinfectant)
With women doing the 1001 vital but unsung jobs in the Army, consider making up a package for a woman and ask the lady in your life what she would want if she was going camping. (Pick the your source with care, at least one ex-girlfriend would have considered a five-star hotel “roughing it” (hee!))
THANK YOU !!!!
I only send phone cards when they are asked for because they are not usable in some areas.
When sending canned items think about buying ones with easy open tab tops. I thought I saw somewhere that there was some weird rule about can openers. I’ve also been trying to get out the word on anysoldier as it is a great sight. It is perfect for people that don’t personally know anyone serving and want to send effective care packages to those that are not getting any.
Do they even make cans WITHOUT easy-open lids anymore? It seems everything I buy has them, which makes it a lot easier to shop for my AnySoldier care packages. 🙂