As rapid response units have deployed, and more stand ready in the wings, many families are facing a deployment reality that has become uncommon in the last few years. These troops are being sent to the front without their smart devices. Leaving families to rediscover fun ways to connect without tech.
Ways to Connect Without Tech: Old Fashioned Care Package and Letter Ideas
Even just as recently as the start of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many military families exclusively relied on the time-honored traditions of letters and care packages to stay connected during deployments. As technology has developed over the last 20 years, more forward-deployed troops have been able to access the internet, social media platforms or even bring their smart devices with them.
This meant that families no long had to wait for a patchy satellite phone call to come through as their only means of communication in weeks. Instead, emails can be sent or video chats can be started at the drop of a hat. Or, you know, as the mission, internet connectivity and time differences allow.
But with some recently deployed units being told to leave all tech at home, many families will need to dust off their old standbys for connection and communication. Do you remember how to write a meaningful letter or stuff a care package?
Write Letters They’ll Remember
It’s time to recall everything your middle school teachers told you about writing letters. Except this time, make them more personal and, well, loving!
If your loved one is deployed without regular internet access or mail service, Jo, My Gosh recommends making a bunch of “open when” letters.
These are essentially letters that you ship off with your spouse or loved one, packed into their seabag or backpack. Each letter is labeled with a time or situation for them to open that one letter. Things like:
- you feel sore
- you wish you could watch the big game
- you feel hopeless
- you miss me
- you had a great day
Each themed letter should include encouragement about that particular situation. Jo also recommends including a small gift, like a picture of you together or a pain relief patch, with the letters.
This option works great for troops deployed on ships or in combat zones. You could send some letters with your loved one now, and then plan a second (or third) wave of open when letters in a few weeks.
If you will have semi-regular mail services, you can write more often and talk about current events! Share news from your life, what your kids (or pets) are doing and other points of interest.
ArmyWife 101 writer Jackie Toops shared a poignant draft of her first letter to her newly deployed spouse, circa 2017. In it, she writes about how much she misses him and how things have changed on the home front since he shipped out. While she was sentimental, she was also upbeat and positive.
You’ll need to develop your own style for writing letters to your deployed spouse or loved one. Keep things real while also boosting morale. It’s a delicate balance to achieve, but you can do it!
Send Valuable Care Packages
It’s super tempting to load your spouse or loved one up with all the things, via care package. But it’s also important to have a reality check about what they truly need, things that might be nice to have and items that should 100% be saved for homecoming. Veterans United has a great guide that breaks everything down quickly and easily.
So, on the list of items to keep for later:
- risque photos of yourself (or someone else) because those packages might be searched en route
- drugs or alcohol
- pork products (in some observant Muslim countries or locations)
- valuables like jewelry, cash or technology
- weapons, including guns
- aerosols or pressurized products
Things that are nice to have, but maybe not always needed could include:
- candy and other snacks
- leisure activities, like decks of cards or travel-sized board games
- books or magazines
- word games, like crosswords
- easy-to-pack sports equipment, like a baseball and glove
Consider packing these items more often:
- baby powder
- topical pain ointment
- high-protein snacks
- water flavor packets
- baby wipes
- hand sanitizer
- tampons and pads
Of course, not every service member wants or needs the same things. Try to tailor your care packages to what your spouse or loved one needs and/or enjoys.
Rachel at Countdowns & Cupcakes has hundreds of ideas for themed care packages to make year-round! From branch-specific ideas to coffee themes or celebrating the holidays, she has a care package for every occasion and then some!
Make Sure You Send Letters & Packages Securely
When you’re sending mail to troops deployed overseas, it’s important to know the rules about how to send all the things.
First, make sure you get their forward-deployed address. It’s usually their name, including rank, then a line that substitutes for the street address. Following that is FPO, APO or DPO plus their region code. Right now, that region code is probably AE (Middle East) or AP (Asia-Pacific). There will also be a 5 to 9 digit zip code.
Label the envelope or package as normal:
- “Street” address – it’s the second part of the address your loved one shares
- FPO/APO/DPO, AP “Zip Code” – that’s the 5-9 digit code that comes last
If you are sending a letter, stick a stamp on there and you’re done! Sending mail to APO/FPO/DPO addresses costs the same as sending something from MA to CA.
It’s wise to stock up on forever stamps in advance, that way you can write letters whenever and just drop them in the mail without a trip to the post office.
For packages, the rules are a little different. You’re going to need a customs form. There are two kinds:
The long form is, well, longer. It’s larger and you’ll need to share more info about what’s in the package, who it’s going to, etc. The short form requires just the basics: a brief description of contents, a general estimate of value, and who it’s going to as well as coming from.
Every single package needs this form. Yes, even if you are sending multiple packages to the same address on the same day. Every single individual package gets a customs form.
When packing your care packages, you’ll want to be careful. The best advice: use lots of tape to really secure everything. Cover every edge, corner and seam with 1-2 layers of packing tape.
Pack delicate or fragile things inside of cushioning, like socks, to prevent breakage.
Try to avoid shipping liquids, but if you must, it’s best to seal them inside of plastic bags to prevent leaks.
Strong smelling items should not be placed with food. Your beef jerky won’t be as delicious if it smells like laundry powder or icy-hot cream.