By Kristen Plank
University of Georgia
Carolyn Ainslie, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension educational program specialist, knows how it feels to have a loved one abroad and when and how mailing deadlines work.
“My son is in the army and was overseas in Afghanistan last year,” she said. “When he was deployed, I sent something once a week.”
Ainslie said her son Wendell loved getting gifts but was troubled that many of his soldiers didn’t get any mail. He decided to work with an organization online that helps get people to donate packages to troops. A church in Ainslie’s area also got involved last Christmas.
“They only had a week left to send gifts before Christmas, but they wanted to help out anyway,” she said.
The packages were sent first class to Ainslie’s son, who got them on Christmas Day. He gave packages to every solider in his unit and then, with a 9.5-hour time difference, called his mom to tell her to thank the church for him.
“We called the church music director and told him the packages had arrived, and how thankful they all were,” Ainslie said. “He was able to tell the congregation, and it was an emotional thing for the community. They felt they had a personal impact in the life of a soldier that day.”
Cpl. Scottie Ballew, a U.S. Army recruiter in Athens, Ga., said soldiers get “a daily mail call. But depending on where they are, mail will come every two to three days.” Each company has a mail clerk, and troops will go to the chaplain’s tent to see if they have any mail.
Some places aren’t easily accessible. Justin Plank, a quartermaster seaman in the Navy, said mail can arrive anywhere from two weeks to once a month if the ship is out to sea. A supply ship will come alongside and divvy out basic supplies along with any mail.
Getting mail, he said, is hard to describe: “It’s unreal. You’re up sometimes for two days straight, you’re tired and cranky and always on the defensive, waiting for something to happen. It’s incredible, and it’s the biggest morale booster. It just makes you happy.”
Sometimes he’d get mail three times a week and sometimes once a month, he said. On average, crew members would get one package a month.
Contents in a package can range from food to toys.
“A lot of people love sending cookies, but they can go bad by the time they get here, and we have sweets here,” Plank said. He recommends sending magazines, books and, if the troops have access to a DVD player, movies.
And the “quirkier” the gift the better. “My wife sent me some remote-controlled shock tanks,” he said, “And they’ve become the biggest hit on the ship.”
If you’re set on sending foods, UGA Extension food safety specialist Elizabeth Andress has a few tips.
* Send heavy cakes, cookies high in sugar and shortening, fudge and nut bars.
* Avoid sending cookies with cream or custard fillings or moist cookies, which may mold in humid climates.
* Other items that ship well include coffees, dried foods, nuts, teas and mixed cereal snacks.
Packaging is important to get the gift there in peak condition.
* Place foods and gifts in clean boxes or metal tins.
* Pack that box inside a packing box.
* Place packing materials, such as newspaper, foam pieces or bubble wrap, around the first box.
* Take into account the military and each country’s customs regulations. Size and weight may be an issue, too.