Care Packages

22 Apr

Care packages are absolutely INVALUABLE for your Soldier! They may be restricted in some cases, so be aware of the rules and restrictions. Here’s a few general guidelines:

  • If your Soldier is in basic training or AIT, ask before you send care packages. ESPECIALLY in BCT, some Drill Sergeants don’t allow care packages. If you DO get to send care packages in BCT, do NOT send food items. Check with your recruiter, the BCT location, and/or the U.S. Army Future Soldier Family Program for updated lists of BCT care package items. General rule of thumb for BCT care packages: Don’t send anything unless he requests it. The only exception to this is cards, letters, drawings from the kids, etc.
  • Get the kids involved! Kids frequently enjoy helping out in the kitchen, and regular care packages will always require some level of “quality control”!
  • Care packages are a big deal. In BCT, he’ll be opening care packages in front of his Drill Sergeant. After BCT, it’s not uncommon for his buddies to crowd around him to see what he got. With that in mind, watch what you send. If you send naked pictures to him in BCT, the Drill Sergeant will confiscate him, smoke him, and generally make his life hell. If you send them to him while he’s deployed to a Muslim country, the entire care package may be destroyed. And if you send them at any other time, don’t be surprised if you get some funny looks from his buddies when they all get home.
  • As a general rule, don’t send tobacco or alcohol. If he’s authorized to have it, he’ll be able to purchase it locally. It’s forbidden in BCT and in most AIT’s, and it’s forbidden in Muslim countries. Also forbidden in Muslim countries: pork or pork products. No bacon muffins, and if you’re sending store-bought items, check the labels carefully. Sometimes pork fat can turn up in the most unexpected places! I once bought some banana chips to send to Saudi Arabia and found pork fat included on the ingredients list!
  • Don’t make a mess! Somebody always thinks it’s cute or funny to send a care package designed to explode confetti everywhere when it’s opened. It’s not. Your husband might laugh about it at first, but when he’s starting his second hour of looking for confetti that landed somewhere underneath his wall locker, he’ll be cussing.
  • Keep in mind that he may have limited space. Food items, baked goods, candy, etc. – all of these things are consumable, so you don’t have to worry too terribly much about overloading him with that stuff. But books, games, etc. – keep in mind that his space may be limited, ESPECIALLY if he’s on board a ship or in BCT/AIT.
  • Care packages are made for sharing. Always try to send enough so that he can share with his buddies (if it’s food items).
  • Don’t send stuff he can buy there. My hubby’s in AIT, and as much as he loves Fig Newtons, he can buy them at the PX. There’s no need for me to send them. On the other hand, when my ex-husband was deployed to Saudi Arabia, he would ask for those banana chips because he couldn’t get them in theater. Girl Scout cookies are often a big hit, but lots of guys in deployed locations have access to them (the Girl Scouts donate a large number of them through the USO every year), so ask before sending them.

Regularity
There is one BIG note about care packages that applies to ALL communication with your Soldier: BE REGULAR!!! Decide in advance how frequently you can send things and STICK TO IT! Our Soldiers are creatures of habit. They grow to expect the things we send and get very disappointed if we don’t send them on schedule. Now sometimes, things come up. One of the first care packages I was planning got delayed because everyone in the house came down with a stomach bug and I didn’t want to send vomiting and diarrhea to my hubby! But I also notified him of the circumstances. That way, he knew I didn’t just forget.

For me, when my husband was in BCT (and I didn’t send care packages unless he specifically requested something), I wrote letters EVERY DAY and sent them every day. I missed one or two days, but I worked very hard to get those letters out daily. The kids wrote and sent letters once a week, and after about the third week I started sending one of two greeting cards randomly throughout the week. The letters from me & the kids were a part of his routine and the greeting cards (and letters from his parents & extended family) were fun bonuses. But he told me once that he looked forward to every evening after mail call when he would settle in and read my letter before bed. It was part of his evening routine, and it was something he came to expect. On those occasions when the mail was screwy and he didn’t get a letter like he was supposed to, he would re-read old letters, but he was always disappointed.

Regularity is critical with care packages as well. I prepare my packages on Sunday and send them out on Monday morning. Because they go out Priority Mail, he normally receives them on Wednesday or Thursday. It’s something that he looks for and expects. Decide in advance what your schedule will be and stick to it.

What to Send
Obviously, some things are pretty much expected in care packages, like foodstuffs (especially homemade stuff!). Other things he may request, like a certain video game or book or magazine. Other things (like letters, cards, drawing from the kids, etc.) can be added to give him a taste of home. Keep in mind what he has access to. My husband has a laptop, so I’ll frequently burn a DVD for him of home movies and pictures we’ve taken since he left. You may want to keep a video diary and burn it to DVD and send it with your care packages.

One note about videos: Our Soldiers love seeing videos of important and special events, so make sure to videotape the birthday party, the trip to the zoo, the school play, the soccer game, etc. But they also like seeing a “slice of life” from home. It may sound silly, but try setting up the video camera during dinnertime. Set the camera in Daddy’s spot and videotape the family having dinner together. Set up the camera in the kitchen and “talk” to your husband while you’re doing dishes. Don’t neglect the “boring” stuff; a lot of times, that “boring” stuff is the stuff that they miss the most.

Condiments can be greatly appreciated depending on where he is, especially if he enjoys something more exotic than salt and pepper! Dried condiments (like garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, dried seasoning mixes, etc.) can be packaged into small plastic zipper bags – you can usually find these at craft stores with the cake/candy decorating stuff. If he’s deployed someplace where the food is terrible, having little baggies of his favorite seasoning blends can be VERY welcome.

Liquid condiments are a bit more difficult. If he likes something like soy sauce, look at places like Costco, Sam’s Club, and local Asian grocers or restaurant supply stores to see if they have any single-serve packets. But there IS another method you can use for liquid condiments; it’s a bit dicey, but it is often effective for things like Srirachi that my husband loves. You fill ice cube trays with the condiments and freeze them solid. Once they’re frozen, use a vacuum sealer (like a Food Saver) to seal one or two ice cubes together completely. Let thaw before you ship, but that will USUALLY (not always!) keep the condiments for a pretty long time.

When it comes to baked goods, keep a few things in mind:

  • If you’re sending to a very hot location, don’t use butter of margarine. Use something like butter-flavored shortening because it won’t go rancid as quickly. Also, beware of peanut butter, nut butters, and other foods with a high oil content because of the rancidity.
  • Don’t even try sending fudge to a hot place or to any place overseas. Any type of fudge-y candies will not work. Hard candies can work if it’s not too hot and/or has too long of a delay.
  • Anything crumbly can crumble. Plan accordingly. Anything chewy is going to be likely to go bad if you’ll have to wait too long for delivery. Cookies will usually last longer than bar cookies, muffins, breads, etc. Don’t ship that unless you know you’ll be getting pretty quick delivery.
  • Everything MUST COOL COMPLETELY before you try to package it.
  • Don’t send stuff that’s frosted. If you want to send something with frosting, send it unfrosted and then send an unopened package of frosting along with it so that he can frost it when he gets it.
  • Small sizes will work best. Think mini-muffins instead of full-size muffins, mini-loaves of bread instead of standard sizes, etc. Small sizes are easier to pack and easier to share!

Packaging
Packaging is critically important! Nothing will break your heart faster than your husband calling you on the verge of tears because all of the brownies you sent him arrived in crumbs!

The most important thing to remember with packaging is to package in small batches and do NOT hesitate to overpackage! If you package in small batches and one batch is destroyed, it’s likely that the other batches will be okay.

For Muffins, Breads, etc.
I sent my husband some cinnamon streusel muffins (his favorite!). Here’s how I packaged them.

First, I let them cool COMPLETELY!

Then, as you can see, I laid out wax paper and foil. I placed each individual muffin upside down on the wax paper.

Wrap it up like a present:

Then you do the same basic wrapping with the foil. Place LOOSELY in a Ziploc bag and pack. The foil helps to keep them from being crushed and the wax paper helps keep them from sticking to the foil.

 

For Bar Cookies, Soft Candies, and Crumbly Cookies
Wrap in wax paper and package in hard containers, like Ziploc Take & Toss. Make sure the wax paper goes between EACH AND EVERY cookie or candy (for the soft ones)!!! It’s not as big of a deal on crumbly cookies, but make sure that there’s enough wax paper to reduce movement with the crumbly cookies.

 

For Hard Candies
Individually wrap and package in a Ziploc bag. Individual wrappers can usually be found in craft stores with the cake decorating supplies.

For Regular Cookies
Run a length of wax paper. Put the first cookie on one side of the wax paper about 2-3 inches from the end and fold the wax paper in half over the cookie. Fold up the end and place another cookie on top of the package. Fold the long end of the wax paper over the top of the cookie, then place another cookie on top of the package. Fold the long end of the wax paper over, placing another cookie on top, until you have about 5-6 cookies. Fold the excess of the long end over the top of the last cookie. Place the wax paper packet face down on some foil and wrap like a present. Place two or three packets LOOSELY into a Ziploc bag.


How to Send
It really depends a lot on where your Soldier is. Check with your local FRG, your Key Spouse, your unit, etc. For example, on some Air Force bases, they send out “Re-Deployers” once a week or once every few weeks to deployed locations, and they’re usually happy to stick your care package on the plane when it goes out (and it’s free!). In a lot of places, you have no choice but to send it through freight.

Make friends with the U.S. Postal Service! They will delivery more regularly and more efficiently to virtually every military location than UPS, FedEx, or DHL. They also offer a variety of shipping discounts if you pay for your shipping online, especially if you pay through your PayPal account. Their USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes are also a great bargain because you don’t have to pay for the box, and it’s usually cheaper than shipping a box of a similar size.

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