Regardless of one’s political stance on the presence of American troops overseas, there’s one thing on which most people can agree: The men and women in the armed forces have families and loved ones like everyone else and deserve to know that they’re remembered and appreciated for the job they’re performing. The Adopt a Soldier Program is just one way of giving thanks and sustaining morale for those fighting in lands far from home.
When Paul Johnson found out he was going to be deployed to Iraq, he knew he could count on receiving regular shipments of goodies–including his favorite cookies–from his mother, Ann. Ann was concerned, though, about how lonely some of the other soldiers might feel at not hearing their names at mail call or having to rely on the generosity of their buddies to share the treats they got from back home. She wanted to make sure that every soldier in Paul’s unit could get just as many cards, letters and baked goods as her son but knew it would be impossible from an economic and time standpoint to accomplish this task on her own. It was the media that came to her rescue in January 2005 by doing a story on Ann’s “Adopt a Soldier Program.” The response from volunteers across the country was enormous and the Adopt a Soldier Program (adoptaussoldier.org) has subsequently become an outstanding model for individuals, corporations, schools and civic organizations that want to make sure that the packages and the positive wishes for a safe homecoming keep flowing.
The types of items that volunteers typically send to overseas military personnel fall into four categories: (1) Things that are edible; (2) Things for personal care and wellness; (3) Things for fun and recreation; and (4) Things that lift the spirits.
Edible items include cookies, candy bars, crackers, dried fruit, canned goods, beef jerky, gum, juice boxes, powdered drink mixes and tea bags.
Personal care/wellness items would be things like shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, aspirin, antacids, soap, dental floss and foot powder.
The category of fun and recreation would cover surprises such as playing cards, puzzles, poker chips, nerf balls, and a variety of reading material (books, magazines, joke collections, inspirational stories).
To lift the spirits, nothing says “home” quite like reading local newspapers, getting photos, and receiving uplifting cards and letters. For those who end up becoming pen pals, the inclusion of writing paper, packets of pens and self-addressed envelopes are always appreciated.
The Adopt a Soldier Program website contains a detailed list of items that are appropriate for care packages.
Individuals who want to participate in the Adopt a Soldier Program do so by registering directly at the website and, if they choose, specifying whether they prefer a specific branch of the military. They can also specify whether they prefer their adopted soldier to be male or female (which, of course, will influence what type of items they put in their care packages). Upon assignment of a soldier to write to, the volunteer addresses the package or correspondence to the soldier at the APO (Air/Army Post Office) or FPO (Fleet Post Office) address that has been provided and takes it to the post office. Even if your soldier is based on the other side of the planet, the cost of mailing her a letter or a card is exactly the same domestic rate for a postage stamp as if she just lived down the street from you. Delivery times vary based on (1) how far the material has to travel, and (2) how often the intended recipient has to move. Just as with regular mail within the U.S., the biggest delays are likely to occur around the holidays.
Always make sure that your return address is clearly legible and on the outside of the card or package as well as on a slip of paper inside. Packages cannot exceed the current weight limit of 70 pounds. Further, packages and padded envelopes may be subject to spot inspections to ensure that illegal substances, pornographic material, or political propaganda items aren’t being transmitted. If you’re unsure about what can and can’t be sent, you can contact a representative at the Military Postal Service Agency at (800) 810-6098, or visit the U.S. Postal Service website online at usps.com.
The purpose of the Adopt a Soldier Program is to bring cheer and moral support to our troops overseas, not to hook them up with lonely hearts who are looking for someone to rescue them or to be a sounding board for all of their problems. While many a friendship has evolved over the course of a pen pal relationship–even some that have resulted in a trip down the aisle–this shouldn’t be your objective for participating. Likewise, you need to accept that not every soldier you send a box of cookies to is under any obligation to write back to you. He’s busy doing his job, remember? From a soldier’s standpoint, it should also be taken into consideration that his new friend stateside may lose interest after the first few months of corresponding or may just no longer have the time. For whatever the duration of your involvement with the program, it needs to be done with an open heart, an enthusiastic attitude and the simple desire to bring a smile to the face of a stranger.