Service member receiving a care package.
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Sending a Military Care Package: What You Need to Know

Military care packages deliver a welcome piece of home to your service member while they’re away – whether that’s your child, fiancé, sibling or friend. They help both of you stay connected despite distance or duty.

Here are some appropriate ways to send those care packages to your service member throughout their time in the military.

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Care packages during boot camp? Letters are better.

When your recruit first left for basic training, you may have noticed that they only took a few things with them. This is because the military provides everything recruits need during boot camp, from meals and housing to basics like toothbrushes or socks. Duplicates from home are stored and only retrieved after graduation.

That's why most service branches discourage care packages for recruits in boot camp. In fact, receiving an unauthorized care package may result in a punishment from the drill instructor for their entire unit. So, it’s better to wait until your recruit finishes basic before you send any packages.

Ordinary mail, however, is always allowed. A letter from home can encourage your recruit during the demands of basic training.

If you do send a letter, use a plain piece of paper and an envelope. It’s okay to send photos, but don’t do things like decorating the envelope – it could cause unwanted attention for your recruit. Plan on two weeks for letter delivery, so time letters to arrive before graduation. Think twice about texting, sending digital cards or email, as your service member will have very limited use of a cell phone, if at all. Use of cell phones is dictated by service branch and drill sergeants.

After boot camp is the time to send military care packages.

Service members who have finished basic training or are on deployment generally have more freedom to receive care packages. Sending a military care package is a great way to show your appreciation and love for your service member and all they do for our country.

If you are a parent or other relative, consider sending the music, toiletries, foods and treats your service member likes best. If you are in a relationship with a service member, think about sending notes, cards and small items that remind them how much you care. And, of course, photos from home are always welcome.

Here are some military care package ideas that are appreciated by service members:

  • Necessities, such as sunblock, socks, underwear, flip-flops, lip balm and powder
  • Snacks, including chips, salsa, nuts, cookies, beef jerky, non-melting candy and trail mix in packaging that isn’t easily crushed. Drink mixes in single-serving packets are also a good addition.
  • Homemade foods: The most popular items are cookies and “cake in a jar,” which is a cake baked in a canning jar. Again, the key is sturdy packaging to prevent crushing.
  • Games, such as playing cards/poker chips, crosswords or puzzle books.
  • Stationery is a must if you want to receive any letters from your service member. Send paper, envelopes, address labels and pens, but skip the stamps. They won't need them.
  • Photos and notes that show your support and affection. Maybe get a daily tear-off calendar and write an encouraging note on each page.

Once you know what you want to send, follow these tips to make sure your military care package arrives in good condition:

  • Seal everything: Individually seal items in plastic bags with zip locks, if possible, to protect items from the elements or to keep them from leaking out.
  • Use sturdy packaging: The best packaging is a free Military Care Kit from the U.S. Postal Service, which includes priority mail boxes, tape, custom forms and address labels. The packaging is free, but the postage is not.
  • Provide accurate shipping information: Include your service member’s unit, last and first name, title, DPO/FPO/APO and full ZIP code.
  • Take advantage of reduced postage for military mail: You only have to provide standard domestic postage on mail going to an APO or FPO address. For example, if you pay $5 to mail a package in the continental United States, it costs the same to mail it overseas as long as you have an APO / FPO / DPO address and associated ZIP code.
  • Complete the customs forms: You need to fill out customs forms for any shipping outside the United States. Customs forms are included with Military Care Kits or can be found on the USPS website.
  • Consider shipping time: Most care packages can make it to the Middle East in about two weeks, but some take longer. For holidays, allow about five weeks for delivery.
  • Be careful what you send: Check the post office’s prohibited items list to keep items from being rejected. Remember that sometimes packages from home get opened by someone before your service member, so don’t send anything you don’t want strangers to see. Also, don’t send things that are valuable or can’t be replaced – sometimes packages get lost.

Care packages are always good, but sometimes a service member may need a bit more, whether it’s help with taxes as Tax Day approaches or talking with someone who can listen. Do you know that active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members have access to a wide range of individualized consultations, coaching and a range of other services? This includes relationship and peer-to-peer counseling to tax preparation and financial services to wellness coaches and more. It’s all free and available 24/7 through Military OneSource.