Support Our Troops

What does it mean to say “I support our troops”? I said it for years. One day, I realized a very important fact. Just saying the words, without actually doing anything, is meaningless. For years, what had I done to actually support our troops? Nothing. It would be more accurate to have said “I am glad we have troops.” Since that realization in May of 2007, I have become determined to let my words actually mean something.

I support our troops. Packages Shipped to Date:
54
Letters Sent to Date:
48

Regardless of your feelings about U.S. involvement in military actions around the globe, the soldiers are putting their lives on the line in the name of our great nation. As soldiers, they follow orders. They go where they are told and do what they are told to do. The soldiers are not playing politics, they are doing a job. Even if you don’t agree with the political reasons for soldiers being wherever they are currently deployed, a time could well come when we need these soldiers defending our countries and values in a situation you do agree with.

Being deployed is not easy. These men and women are sent far from their family and friends. They sacrifice their quality of life for the living conditions of a military base or encampment. They are often in impending danger from enemies or enemy traps. These people put their lives on the line because they believe in our country and are willing to die for you and me. How can we not do something, at least, to make their time of service better?

One of the number one things we can do is send our troops packages and letters. Soldiers need to get letters from us to keep up their morale. They need packages to provide them with items in short supply at their location. Could you not spend a few minutes of your time and a couple dollars to send a group of soldiers some snacks and entertainment? A bored soldier is not as effective and alert as one motivated by the support of his country. Sending packages to our troops has a lot of steps, but they are actually pretty easy to do once you’ve figured out how. I hope that this site will provide you with motivation and information to start doing something for our military abroad.

Demographics

I wanted to keep up with how many packages I sent where and to what branches of the service. This is mainly for my benefit, but maybe you will get something from it as well.

Packages

  Air Force Army Marine Corps Navy
Afghanistan 3 6 1 1
Djibouti 2
Iraq 2 15 15 3
Kuwait 3 2
Serbia 1

Deciding which branch to send to is in some parts random on my part and somewhat by math. I do not know exactly how many troops from each branch are deployed, but I can see how many requests from each branch are on AnySoldier.com. I see a correlation between number of troops and number of requests. I am trying to keep my support close to proportional to each branch. You don’t have to do it this way, you can send to anyone you like. For me, this seemed the most balanced method. My latest calculations indicated for each 1 package sent to the Navy, there should also be 1 Air Force, 4 Marine Corps and 14 Army.

Letters

  Air Force Army Coast Guard Marine Corps Navy
Afghanistan 3 5 1 2
Bahrain 1
Djibouti 1
Egypt 1
Iraq 2 8 10 3
Kuwait 1 3 2
Kyrgyzstan 1
Philippines 1
Qatar 1 1
United Arab Emirates 1

I prefer to send care packages with letters inside rather than only letters; however, sometimes the troops don’t put enough information on AnySoldier.com to determine exactly what they need or have access to. You don’t want to send a lot of microwavables to a group with no microwave, or freezer pops to a group with no way to freeze them. In these situations, I send a letter and encourage the troops to expand their AnySoldier.com post with more information for us at home. Letters are also a great way to show support when your funds for sending care packages have run low for the month! Because you are sending the letter to the Army or Fleet Post Office here in the U.S., it costs exactly the same as sending a letter to your grandmother!

Special Thanks

Supporting our troops is a community effort, and a number of people have generously given funds or items to help this cause. In recognition of their efforts, I would like to thank all of the following: Casey S. (funds & items), Charlie & Betty P. (funds & items), Charlie P. & Student Activities (items), Cheryl H. (funds), Cheryl W. (items), Chris H. (items), Colby W. (funds), Freida E. (funds & items), Irene M. (items), Jennifer T. (items), Joyce C. (items), Judy B. (funds & items), Judy G. (funds & items), Judy H. (funds & items), Laura D. (items), Marsha W. (items), Nicholas C. (items), Scott F. (funds, items & donation procurement), and Whitney T. (funds). If I have forgotten to mention someone by name, please forgive me! Contact me, and I will get you added.

Sending Packages

There are several steps to sending packages, and here is a checklist, with descriptions following.

  1. Decide what you want to send.
  2. Gather, collect, or buy what you want to send.
  3. Weigh each item.
  4. Put the items into a package for mailing.
  5. Weigh the whole package.
  6. Decide to whom you will send the package.
  7. Address the package.
  8. Fill out customs forms for the package.
  9. Take package to the nearest convenient U.S. Post Office.

Deciding What to Send

Soldiers have needs and wants. The depth of what is in each of those categories is staggering! There are some things that are common sense; entertainment and snacks are a big deal. Toiletries are another. The best way to find out what a soldier wants is to talk to an actual soldier! There is a fantastic web site called AnySoldier.com that has an entire section where soldiers post what they need and how to get it to them. Spend some time browsing these posts. Find things on sale at your local stores. If you think, “a soldier would like that”, someone probably would. However, be sure not to send things that violate shipping restrictions. Obvious things on this restricted list could include obscene or nude depictions, pork products, bulk religious materials, horror comic books, and firearms. Use a little common sense.


Go to AnySoldier.com

Gathering the Items to Send

Don’t be cheap, but be smart. You may have things on hand that soldiers want; for example, have some DVDs you could part with? You can ask for donations of items from friends and family as well. Drift through the clearance racks at stores. Did you see that a group of soldiers wants some bar soap? There may be an economy pack on sale. Save yourself money and you can afford to send packages more often, or put more in each package! If you are spending so much that it becomes a burden, you won’t continue to send packages. Be reasonable about how much you want to spend and spend wisely to maximize the amount you can get.

The customs forms only allow five different items in a package. You may combine types into a single line item. For example, you can have “Food” on the form instead of “Cheerios, Beef Jerky, and Powdered Drink Mix.” Keep in mind that each and every package has to be x-rayed, weighed and examined for potential bombs and other dangerous items. It is critical that you accurately list what is in your box.

I have found that I can get a whole lot of things the soldiers want if I buy from these four places:

  • Dollar Tree
  • Sam’s Club
  • Walgreens
  • Wal-Mart

You can also by-pass the rest of these steps by going to TreatAnySoldier.com. They will handle all the shopping, packaging, customs and shipping for you. You pick out a “package” to send, pay for it, and they do the rest. If you can’t, or don’t want to, spend the time and effort to do it yourself, this is an outstanding alternative.

 Go to TreatAnySoldier.com

Weigh Each Item

When you fill out your customs forms, you will have to put the total weight of each different type of item in your package. For example, if you were shipping 10 bars of soap, you must indicate how much 10 bars weigh. You will later be asked to provide the weight of the entire package. You cannot fill out the customs form without this information.

I went and bought a small digital scale to weigh items. You have to be able to determine ounces. It doesn’t take much time to weigh them and write it down. However, doing this now will keep you from having to open up the box when you reach step 8.

I would recommend a scale that can measure at least 10 pounds. Having a 20 lb. scale would be even better.

Package Your Items

Please don’t go out and buy boxes. Many people are not aware of this, but the USPS will send you new empty Priority Mail boxes for free. Since you will be shipping your packages Priority Mail, use this service! I have found the Flat Rate Boxes to be tremendously useful. They cost a set amount to ship, regardless of weight, which makes it easy to correctly fill out the postage cost line on the customs form. You may certainly use non-Flat Rate boxes, but if you miscalculate the postage, your forms will be incorrect.

Use plenty of padding and clear tape reinforcement to make sure your items are secure. Your package will be sent via USPS, then taken overseas via military transport, examined at customs, shipped via military transport, then delivered to your soldier. These boxes will take a beating. Wrap, pad, and put into containers any liquids!

Be careful mixing foods and non-foods. Some things can be mixed without incident, but why risk it? Ever eaten a cookie that tastes like soap? That’s what happens when you send a box of cookies in a package with Irish Spring®! If a soldier will consume it, pack it only with items the soldier will eat. If it is a lotion or soap, pack it with similar items.

Also, pack smart. Soldiers need things like ziplock bags and disposable containers. Pack your items into those, and you can double the usefulness of your shipment! On your customs form, indicate the items are in a container. For example, list “20 Ink Pens in Plastic Container”. This way, there is no question when odd-shaped items appear on the x-ray. This has the added benefit of preventing contamination by other items in your box. If a bottle of liquid busts, it can ruin the whole shipment unless you packed it well.

Don’t forget to include letters from you, family and friends. Soldiers appreciate these as much, if not more, than the items themselves. Also, the U.S. Postal Service recommends including a card in the package listing the shipper, recipient and list of items within in case the package becomes damaged.

Weigh the Package

Once you completely pack and seal your package, weigh it in total. The box, tape, packing materials and whatnot add up to a lot of weight. You cannot simply take the weight of the individual items added together for your total. This total must be on your customs forms. It is very important that you get this total correct; discrepancies cause questions at customs.

Decide on Recipient

Military regulations require all packages to go to a specific soldier. You cannot simply address the package to “any soldier”. You need to get an address from either a soldier you know or from a web site like AnySoldier.com. Once you have an address, act on it quickly. Packages take around two weeks to arrive, and soldiers do move around. If you get an address today, it may not be correct in a month.

Address the Package

Put your return address and the address of the recipient clearly. You must have both to send the package. Also, keep in mind that your postal clerk will attach an envelope with your customs forms within. These are about 2 inches longer and wider than a half sheet of paper. If you space your addresses out really wide, the envelope is harder to attach, especially on thin boxes. Save yourself that headache and plan for the envelope ahead of time. If you are using the Flat Rate boxes, stay within the borders drawn on the box, and you’ll be fine.

Fill Out Customs Forms

For many people, this is the scariest part. These forms ask a lot of detail, but they really are not a big deal. You can find these online. You want the Form 2976-A for APO/FPO addresses. You can fill these out at the post office, but things are much faster if you fill them out online and bring them with you. The end result of the online pages is a 5-page PDF to print out. You will need to then cut each of the five pages in half and dispose of the extra paper (makes good packing material if waded up). Sign and date all five pages! You must make sure the date you put on the forms is the date you are actually taking the packages to the post office!

Do not attach these forms to your packages unless you have some customs forms envelopes. Your postal clerk will handle this for you. If you have multiple boxes, make absolute certain you get the right forms stuck on the right boxes! For this reason, it is good to send only one package to a given address at a time. You can send multiple packages per trip to the post office, but since your box and your customs forms have the address written on them, it is very easy to match them up if only one box goes to any one address. You can try numbering the boxes and your forms, but you don’t want big obvious marks on either. Also, is it worth risking all this time and money to just screw up the customs forms at the end? Be smart.

Take Packages to the Post Office

If you have followed these steps, your experience at the post office should be painless. Your packages will be packed and secured, you already know the postage due (if using Flat Rate boxes), you know you aren’t going to run into problems with the size and shape of your box (you should be using a USPS-provided box, after all), and you have your customs forms in hand. Most of the time, it will be as easy as going up to the counter, handing over your customs forms, getting them stamped and paying for postage.

I have even found the staff to be extremely helpful, especially when they know what you are doing. I have received a number of tips on how to label and package things thanks to my local USPS Postal Clerks!

Ziggurat Con

The first role-playing game convention in occupied Iraq took place on June 9th, 2007. Those organizing the event asked for support from those of us here at home in the form of books, dice and items to give away as door prizes. The response was pretty overwhelming!

For my part, I collected books from around the house I no longer used as well as books I had from my days as a freelance RPG writer. I ordered some dice and dice bags, and I also wanted to give some door prizes. I put out a call to freelance artists in the industry to donate the rights to print their artwork on t-shirts for this event. Artists Carl Frank and Paul Lippincott answered the call! Both provided beautiful artwork which was printed on t-shirts by Cafe Press and sent over to Iraq.

Previous Blog Posts About Ziggurat Con:

The Shipments:

In all, I sent five full boxes of items in support of Ziggurat Con. A special thanks to the artists, friends and family who contributed artwork, items and/or funds to get this rolling. Below is a listing of the items sent out.

  • 11 Books
  • Cannon Companion (SR3)
  • Denizens of Freeport (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition)
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)
  • Magic in the Shadows (SR3)
  • Monster Manual (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)
  • Player’s Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)
  • Psionics Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition)
  • Shadowrun 3rd Edition Core Rules (SR3)
  • Serpent Kingdoms Forgotten Realms Accessory (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition)
  • The Hamlet of Thumble Adventure (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition)
  • Wheel of Time Core Rules (d20)
  • 3 Boxes of Powdered Drink Mix Singles (Hawaiian Punch)
  • 3 Cloth Dice Bags
  • 15 Cotton Shirts (printed with donated artwork)
  • 1 Magazine (Entertainment Weekly)
  • 10 Mechanical Pencils
  • 1 Non-Skid Rug Pad
  • 6 Pads of Paper
  • 200+ Paper (laminated) Tokens and Terrain Tiles
  • 6 Sets of Polyhedral Dice

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