Where to Begin• If you know relatives of someone stationed overseas, ask them for advice on recipients. Even if your nephew is covered, his buddy may not be.
• Contact the public affairs office of any base in the country and ask them how to get involved; they will provide you with information and procedures. You may end up sending items to an entire unit or an individual soldier.
• Send items and contributions through organizations such as Any Soldier and Operation Shoe Box.
• Sturdy, non-perishable food products that won’t melt in the desert heat. Think hard homemade cookies such as sugar or oatmeal, licorice, trail mix, and potato chips in tins. Alas, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate bars are no-goes.
What to Include
• Baby wipes and unscented soap-free hand cleanser.
• Travel-size toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo. (Unless instructed otherwise, steer clear of heavily-perfumed lotions, which attract insects.)
• Thematic items such as Halloween candy. One mailing for DeShawn contained items related to his college alma mater, Kansas State, with candy in the school colors―purple and white―and trinkets from the campus book store.
• Games, movies, toys, and the like, which boost morale and break up the monotony. A miniature remote-control helicopter got a thumbs-up from DeShawn, as did a package of water balloons and a Velcro-ball dartboard from a dollar store.
• Magazines. Include a range of titles and subjects―from celebrity gossip to cars. Keep in mind that the shipment will be searched at customs, and reading material deemed inappropriate―including fitness magazines with scantily clad cover models―will be confiscated.
• Mementos from friends and family. Gabrielle sent DeShawn their daughter Nadia’s school projects and some of her graded homework so he could see how her writing skills were progressing. If you’re not familiar with the recipient, include funny newspaper clippings or letters of thanks from a local Girl Scout troop.
• Reminders of home. Gabrielle gave DeShawn a handmade blanket for his bed and a book of quotes about why daughters need their fathers.
• Extras. When you can, include more than enough items so there’s plenty leftover to share.
• Your e-mail address and mailing address so the recipient can thank you.
• A personal note, if you wish.
How to Send It• The post office offers a flat rate priority box that costs $11, regardless of weight, for shipments going to APO/FPO addresses. Timing counts: Packages can take up to three weeks to reach the Middle East―so if you’re sending something pegged to a holiday, birthday, or special occasion, plan accordingly.