Most of us can enjoy simple luxuries like name-brand shampoo, flavored beverages and just about any food we can pick up at the store. Deployed soldiers, on the other hand, are a bit more limited.
They are provided with basic toiletries, water, and sometimes (pricey) internet access, but a lot of the things we take for granted every day are what they’re missing most. Putting a little piece of home into a care package for your soldier — or even a soldier you don’t know — is a great way to make their deployment go by faster.
Here are some care package ideas that soldiers really want:
Care Package Ideas: Snacks
Power/protein bars – These are small, portable and easy energy for service members. They can pack them to go or keep them in their rooms (midnight munchies can happen to anyone).
Dried fruit – Any dried food item will preserve much better, and hold up during the shipping process.
Nuts – Get them in the little travel-sized cans or put them in plastic baggies. They come in a lot of different kinds and can be combined with other items to make trail mix. Mixed nuts, honey-roasted peanuts, almonds, pistachios, or seeds (sunflower or pumpkin).
Crackers – Think Ritz, Wheat Thins, and other types of crackers with lots of flavor.
Cereal – Get the mini boxes that come in six and eight packs, with different kinds.
Chips – The small bags of Fritos, Lays, Doritos and more. You can add in some cans of bean or cheese dip to make these even better!
Taco seasoning – Seriously. These can be added to any type of meat your soldier might be eating, and potentially make or break a meal.
Beef jerky – This is a more filling and flavorful snack that will be appreciated.
Pepperoni sticks – Along the same lines as the beef jerky. Something simple to add that will give your soldier some variety in their food intake.
Soup – Instant soup in a cup. Get a package with different flavors, if you can.
Powdered drink mix – When all you get is water, you’re going to want something different after a while. Crystal Light packets or any flavored beverage enhancer adds a new taste to basic water.
Candy – The kind that won’t melt and deform! Most hard candies are good.
Homemade baked goods – Desserts like cookies or cake (in a jar, so it doesn’t fall apart) will probably be the most exciting part of a package. Try to bake them as moist as possible, and then carefully wrap them air-tight to preserve the flavor. It sounds silly, but people can really tell when something is made with thought, effort and love. Avoid adding things like chocolate chips, which might melt in extreme temperatures.
Care Package Ideas: Hygiene
Name-brand – Even though soldiers are given toiletries, they may want the comfort of familiar and higher quality products. Send travel-sized and well-sealed bottles of their favorite shampoos, body washes, shaving cream and deodorant.
Floss pickers – You can buy a bag of these at Walmart, or just send regular floss.
Breath mints and gum – Not always for hygiene, but sometimes it’s just good to have something to chew on.
Q-tips – Something everyone wants once in awhile. Especially in dry or sandy terrain, where their ears probably won’t stay clean.
Baby wipes – These are especially helpful on long missions, where soldiers have no access to bathing facilities.
Fabric freshener – If they’ve been too busy to do laundry that week, this is something they’ll appreciate.
Zinc oxide cream – Used to treat rashes, minor burns and other skin irritations, this is especially useful in dry terrain and will be a lifesaver. Buy it in tubes, not a jar.
Gift cards – Give them the gift of free music if you think they’ll use it. You can also buy generic cash value gift cards for them to get items from the exchange.
Electronics – You can also send an iPod already loaded with music, or other portable media players with movies and/or games.
Phone cards – If they don’t have internet access, they will have to buy international phone cards to be able to call home.
Crossword or riddle books – Anything with a puzzle to solve.
Earbuds – Not really an activity, but since they’re so easy to lose or break, everyone could use an extra pair.
Books – If you know what your service member likes to read, pack something of their favorite genre, or one you know they’ve enjoyed before.
Magazines – Especially if they already have a subscription that they’ve been missing. Keep it PG-13!
Notepads – For anyone who likes to write or doodle. Be sure to include some colored pens or pencils!
Batteries – AA and D batteries are the most useful. You can’t ship any batteries with lithium-ion.
Sentimental Care Package Ideas
Flash drive – This can be loaded with carefully-chosen music, pictures, videos, whatever. It will give them something to listen to or watch that will make them feel closer to home.
Physical pictures – Make a scrapbook, or piece together a photo album. You could even hire a photographer to do a fun shoot of you and other family members.
Handwritten note – You may already write them letters, but including one with your care package will just make it more special. It will also encourage them to write back!
Clothing/blanket/stuffed animal – Something small(ish) that smells like you is the perfect addition to your package. When you’re missing your soldier, you probably have some of their belongings at home to comfort you; they’re going to want the same thing (even if they don’t say so). Spritz a little of your favorite scent or perfume to help them instantly be reminded of you!
Homemade art – From your kids, or even you. It’s a big morale boost, and something they can hold onto until they’re home.
How To Send Your Care Package For Free
Before you start putting this thing together, call or visit your local post office. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has a free Military Care Kit that they offer to military families. It includes boxes, packing tape and customs forms.
Make sure you’re in the know about what you can and can’t ship internationally. There can be size and weight restrictions for packages, and specific unit restrictions as well. Write out the complete address; your soldier’s full name, unit and Air/Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office. For the unit name, include the battalion, ship, squadron, platoon, etc. with the proper zip code (if there is one).
Lastly, be mindful of where you’re sending your care package. If it’s headed to the Middle East, there are certain things you should not be sending, like pork by-products, non-Islamic religious materials, alcohol, obscene or overly political material.
Read our detailed guide on sending these free care packages here.
For any deployed soldier, these care package ideas are very meaningful pieces of home. They combine everyday luxuries with love from family and friends. Even though your service member is far from home, creating a care package can help you feel just that much closer to them.