Thursday, November 18, 2004

Some Tips for Sending Care Packages to the Troops

Take it from the Sailor, these packages are the best morale builder these kids can receive! - Sailor

Some Tips for Sending Care Packages to the Troops
Written by Doc Farmer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I was sitting here in my new flat, feeling sick as a dog from the cold that has been passed around the office a few times, racking my brain for something to write about this week. The election is finally over (thank God!), the cabinet shuffle is continuing apace, the weather is turning rotten(er) outside, and I can feel the chill of winter in me old bones. I'm slightly zorked out of my head on Theraflu, which
should have a warning label for its hallucinogenic effects.

I could rant and rave about whatever injustice has me honked off this week, but you've probably had a snoot-full of that by now. Frankly, so have I. I could remind everybody to send letters to their senators demanding that Kerry be ousted from Congress; no, wait, I did that last week. I could give you my father's super-secret recipe for Swiss Louie dressing, but I'm actually going home for Thanksgiving next week and would prefer not to be shot, thank you very much.

I was just about ready to give up and send my editor a letter of apology, when something on the ChronWatch Forum discussion board caught my eye. These photos of packages sent by well-meaning family and friends to their loved ones over in Iraq:

Link to Photo 1

Link to Photo 2

As you can see, the boxes didn't quite arrive in the same condition they were sent. Sadly, a lot of soldiers will end up with a handful of crumbs instead of a delicious batch of cookies. Or worse, they'll end up with a delicious batch of cookies firmly and permanently embedded in their underwear.

Now, over the years of living overseas, I've learned a trick or three about sending packages. I've actually sent lasagna as a Christmas
gift (and believe me, FedEx and dry ice are an expensive combination). I once packed a three-foot tall camel (don't worry, it was a stuffed toy) into a piece of luggage for my kids when they were (much) younger. I've moved from America to England to Saudi Arabia to Qatar and back again to America, and have survived remarkably unscathed.

Except for when I fly through Detroit. They always lose my luggage in Detroit. Still haven't figured out why.

But I digress.

My mom is great at sending packages for long-haul journeys. She didn't ship much overseas to Dad when he was in the Navy, but Mom was meticulous in the way she'd pack all the stuff she would send. Only problem was, she extended that same care and attention to the Christmas wrapping. I swear she had stock in Scotch Tape! My sisters and I would struggle valiantly with those damnable packages that Mom would wrap (for we knew that it was worth it). I'm eternally grateful that Mom didn't pack our lunches in
the same way, or we'd have starved to death!

Anyway, as I looked at those boxes in the photos above, it occurred to me that a lot of folks might not know how to pack packages for long-distance travel, especially for our service men and women around the world.

Here are some tips for the folks sending CARE packages. Some are my own creation, and some are suggestions from the good folks at the ChronWatch Forums:

  • Buy a very large supply of Ziploc Bags (quart and gallon sizes) and put everything you send into those first. Even if they're already wrapped, use the bags.

  • You should get cookie tins at most cheapo stores. Use them when sending cookies or other semi-perishables. Pack them solidly (don't leave much wiggle room) and seal as tightly as possible. Wrap again in bubble wrap or something soft and bulky (like knitted stuff or socks). Once again, Ziploc everything. Tape the bagged socks around the cookie tins to add cushioning.

  • Avoid sending liquids or syrups if at all possible. If there's any possible way for them to leak, they will find a way. Trust me on this one. If you must send something like that, seal it in a couple of Ziplocs, fold over and tape them, and put it inside something solid (another cookie tin or coffee can).

  • No glass. If something you're sending comes in glass, take it out and put it in plastic or metal, and then in Ziploc.

  • (For those of you wondering, no, I don't have stock in Ziploc.)

  • If you're sending stuff to Iraq or Afghanistan, remember that these are primarily Muslim countries, so everything you send must be Halal (the Islamic version of kosher). Halal is a lot simpler than kosher, actually--no pork or pork products of any kind. Don't send pork rinds, Stove Top Stuffing for Pork, Hush Puppies (the shoes, I mean, not the deep fried thingies), hot dogs, Vienna Sausages, etc. I'm not kidding about the shoes, by the bye. Some of the Hush Puppies shoes use pigskin, and those will be confiscated and destroyed.

  • Also, no booze. Seriously, you don't want to play around with that stuff. Even as a ''joke.'' It will be viewed as an insult to the host countries, and they may confiscate or destroy the entire package.

  • Don't send meat (like hotdogs), cheese, fresh fruits, or fresh veggies. You don't want your loved ones getting sick, after all. You'd be surprised how many times people forget. If you're sending foodstuffs of any kind, understand the term shelf-life will weigh heavily on the minds of the recipients.

  • Send toilet paper. Also send other toiletries like their favorite toothpaste, antiperspirant (gel or stick, not spray), etc.

  • If your loved one is in a tank, APC or Humm-V, chuck in a few dozen of those car air fresheners. Believe me, it'll be appreciated by EVERYONE on board.

  • Send baby wipes. I know that sounds silly, but it is a way for soldiers to give themselves a waterless bath out in the field. If you can get some of those germ-killing kitchen or bathroom wipes, those can come in quite handy as well. Another good thing to send are those little bottles of hand sanitizer gel. Yes, I know the main ingredient is alcohol, but it's not the drinkable variety and is therefore safe to send.

  • If your loved one left America in a hurry for his assignment, he might not have packed carefully. It could be he left a lot of odd socks at home. If you want to be rid of those silly things, and have a bit of fun at the same time, carefully sew the socks together, end to end, into a very long sock scarf. Leave enough room in the stitch for your soldier to safely cut the thread. It will get a great laugh. I know it did for me--my Mom actually pulled this stunt on me, when I was working in England!

  • Now, for the box. Don't use cheap cardboard, or throw-aways from the grocery store. Go to a party supply store or packing/moving company (like U-Haul or Ryder) and buy some good, sturdy boxes. You'll note the plural. Get one box that will fit all the stuff you're sending (including the packing materials and padding) and then get another box one size larger than that. You're going to nest the boxes.

  • When you put the boxes together, use good sturdy packing tape. Wide, reinforced and if possible, waterproof. Run that packing tape along EVERY seam and edge. For added security, run tape along the inside of the box as well. Don't skimp.

  • When you pack the main box (the smaller one that goes inside the larger one), do your best to distribute the weight evenly. Make sure to use lots of crumpled up newspaper for padding between all those Ziploc bags. This gives the package a bit of ''give'' to cut down on crush damage. It also gives your soldiers something to read from back home. Be sure it's the local paper, and within the past couple of weeks. No kidding, this makes a difference.

  • On a large sheet of writing paper, write the FROM and TO addresses clearly. Put one on the inside of the box (bottom) and pack the stuff on top of it. When you're ready to close up the box, put another sheet with the same information on the inside of the box (top), then close and seal well. Mark the outside of the box with the FROM and TO addresses as well.

  • Now, get a couple of very very large garbage bags -- the biggest you can find. If the box is small enough, just drop it in the garbage bag and tape the living sin out of it, sealing it shut tight as a drum. If the box is too large to fit inside a garbage bag, get some large plastic sheeting and wrap the outside of the box, taping it tightly. A combination of packing tape and duct tape works best here. Be sure whatever tape you use is waterproof, though.

  • Once you've done that, line the inside of the slightly larger box with bubble wrap and carefully put the smaller box inside. Whack another sheet of paper on top of that with the name and address info, and then close the larger box and seal it with loads of tape.

  • Mark the box FRAGILE on all six sides in LARGE BOLD RED LETTERS.

  • Make sure you print the name and address information very clearly, and exactly as you're supposed to. Misspellings can mean that the package ends up in the wrong place, so be very careful with this one.

If you're stumped on what to send, and the suggestions here don't quite answer your needs, check with the USO, or your local military recruiting office. They'll have loads of good ideas on what our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and guards require, and what they'd love to see from home. Remember, a lot of them were on the receiving end of those Care packages, and they're an excellent resource.

About the Writer: Doc Farmer is a writer and humorist who is also a moderator on ChronWatch's Forum. He formerly lived in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but now resides in the
Midwest. Doc receives e-mail at

This Article Was First Published In ChronWatch At:

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