A New Milspouse Perspective: Care Package 101
Deployment. Ugh. The dreaded d-word. All I could think when I found out my love would be deploying was, “How will I get through this?!” I just didn’t know how I would function without him. I didn’t know how I would be able to support him when he was halfway around the world. Enter: The Care Package. I chose to channel all of my energy, sadness, support, and love into these packages. I tried to picture myself over there and thought about how nice it would be to receive mail. But not just any mail— a big ol’ box filled with fun goodies, snacks, and things to make life away from home a little easier. So I started to get creative.
The thing was, I learned all of these lessons during our first deployment when I was a newbie to military life. I had no idea where to start, what to send, or how to send it. I want to share with you some of the basic, newbie questions I had and the answers I stumbled upon along the way.
How soon after he deploys can I send a care package?
Although you may receive his address before he leaves, I found it best to wait for word from your service member or family readiness group. That’s not to say you can’t get them ready to go in the first few weeks after he leaves! Do this to save time later. Branch of Service, deployment location, and how long it takes for his unit to get there impact how long you will have to wait before you can send (and he will receive) your packages.
How often should I send a care package?
It really depends on your service member’s needs. I had friends who sent one or two care packages per week, and whose parents and grandparents sent them just as frequently! I, personally, have always sent one a month. My love was on foot the majority of his deployments, and never stayed in one place for very long. For this reason, he asked me not to send them too often because anything I sent, he had to carry. Between his family’s packages and mine, he received about two to three a month. For him, this was perfect. Talk to your service member to find out his or her preferences.
What should I include in my package?
This really depends on where your service member will be and what his or her job is. These are some items that work well no matter what the job:
- letters of support
- pictures of family and friends
- reminders from home
- baby wipes
- beef jerky
- hot sauce
- dried fruit and nuts
- seasoning salt
- hard candy
- powdered drink mix
- chewing gum
- assorted batteries
- PT gear
- holiday-specific items
- personal hygiene gear, like disposable razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste
Is there anything I shouldn’t send?
- anything that melts (like chocolate or softer candy)
- hand sanitizer (it makes mud—send baby wipes instead)
- carbonated beverages or aerosol cans (they may explode in transit)
- alcohol of any sort
- pornography of any sort
Where should I shop for care package supplies?
First stop— the dollar store! They have so many great items for a dollar. I like to save on food and hygiene items here, and splurge on things like books, DVDs, or electronics elsewhere. Sometimes it also pays off to get a membership to a wholesale or warehouse store. You can buy in bulk and ship things a little at a time throughout the deployment.
How can I make my package special?
Get creative! Create a theme for your package and include all kinds of items associated with that theme. It can be focused on a holiday, an occasion, or even just something fun. Examples?
- Christmas in a Box: decorate the box with wrapping paper and send small decorations, like a tiny tree with lights, tinsel, and plastic ornaments
- At the Movies: send a new DVD, a bag or two of popcorn, and movie theater snacks for him to share with his friends
- A Taste of Home Sweet Home: his favorite sweets and baked goods sealed and wrapped in shrink wrapped plastic
Ever heard of “cake in a jar?” I sent several jar cakes with different tubs of frosting for his birthday one deployment. What if he can’t watch DVDs? Try recording a mini home movie and putting it on a USB or memory card for him to plug into his computer or camera to watch on his own. When it comes to putting together care package boxes, remember to think outside that box!
What do I send everything in?
Your best bet, by far, is to ship everything in a flat rate box from the United States Postal Service (USPS). You can pick them up at your local post office or order the boxes online, along with priority mail labels and customs forms. The best part? The boxes are free! A large Priority APO/FPO/DPO flat rate box going to a military address overseas only costs $12.95, and because it’s priority mail the packages are more safe and secured.
What’s the deal with customs forms?
Customs forms have to be filled out with every package you send. I recommend going into your post office and asking them to walk you through your first one, because for me it was kind of complicated! Make sure you press down firmly when filling it out, because the forms are six carbon pages thick. Use your service member’s exact address. Fill out everything you’re able to, including a detailed description of the contents and your signature. Make sure you allow some extra time for this! I tried to fill mine out at home before going in to ship them. The post office will fill out the total weight for you, so don’t worry about that part. Then they’ll stamp it, give you a copy, and you’ll be good to go!
How long will it take my care package to arrive?
It totally depends on where your service member is deployed and on his or her job. It can take anywhere from one week to two months! Since my husband was on foot most of his deployments, he would have to wait until he got back to the station to collect his packages. Sometimes he couldn’t get back for over a month! Keep this in mind when shipping boxes with holiday themes.
Care packages are a great way to send some love and support to your service member. Communicate as much as you can to make sure you’re sending the things he or she needs and not just the things you want to send. Above all— have fun with them!