Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003. Since then, more than 4,000 American troops have died in Iraq; more than half of them were under the age of 25. About 30,000 troops have been injured. Since Operation Enduring Freedom began in October 2001, more than 2,500 U.S. military members have died in Afghanistan. The average length of deployment is about 9 months; many service members are ordered to serve multiple tours.
Every U.S. troop in Iraq and Afghanistan is someone’s son, someone’s daughter. There may be a spouse back home, or children, maybe one of whom is a brand new baby the soldier won’t be able to touch and hold for months. These men and women are suited up head-to-toe in the blistering hot desert on a daily basis, not knowing whether at any given moment they are in the crosshairs of an enemy’s rifle, if their next step will come down onto a land mine, or if the Humvee they’re riding in will collide with a roadside bomb. Every day they face dangers unlike those the rest of us will ever know. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the reasons they’ve been put into harm’s way, their volunteerism and their bravery deserves a ‘thank you.’
Receiving a package from home, even from a stranger, uplifts the spirits of a soldier and helps provide a temporary distraction.
“It’s great watching the mail guy show up and faces light up,” wrote one soldier. “I appreciate you taking the time to think of us & send a package. Our time out here has been good, but I can’t wait to get back home.”
“I really don’t know how to begin this note other than ‘thank you‘,” wrote a soldier named Jenny. “I think this is great what you are doing. Thank you both for sending & caring & reminding me who I’m here for.”
And another wrote, “…thank you so much for my package. It means a lot to us soldiers that people at home think of us. Thank you.”
A group in Indiana that calls itself "Treat Any Soldier," will take a Visa, MasterCard, or Discover account number and mail the sender's choice of a few different pre-assembled packages. The personal hygiene kit contains items such as deodorant, razors, lip balm with sunscreen, and nail clippers. If the sender requests the hygiene kit be sent to a female soldier, there will be other hygiene items specifically for women, and likewise if the choice is to send to a male soldier. The entertainment kit is filled with magazines, books, and DVDs of interest to a man, and a similar kit for a woman. The "cookies" package is filled with an assortment of name-brand cookies, and another kit contains a collection of high-protein edibles. Prices range from about $20 to about $140.
Make-your-own packages can be done, as well. It's important to note that in the information available on-line, senders are asked not to mix edible items with non-edibles in any package. Even with factory seals on such things as cookie or granola bar packaging, combining these kinds of items in a box with soap or shampoo, the cookies will taste like the soap because of the high desert temperatures that these packages are often subjected to for several hours.
A volunteer group in Utah called Letters to Soldiers, which became incorporated in 2010 and hopes to become a registered non-profit organization, collects donated items and hand-written cards and letters and sends them to soldiers overseas. Visit the group's website(listed below) for where to send letters and care packages. Monetary donations, accepted via PayPal on line, help cover costs of shipping packages. For sending a letter via the internet, a form on the Letters to Soldiers website can be completed and sent for the cost of $1.10.
A list of the items most requested by troops is found on the group's website and includes non-perishable food items such as instant soup, dried fruit, single serving packets of drink mix that can be added to water bottles, candy, games, long boot laces, completely white ankle socks, and an array of other items.
This group also organizes what it calls "Operation Ensuring Christmas" and collects items and cards for the holidays. In 2010, the group sent packages to 1,850 troops, and hopes to receive donations to cover 2,500 packages for the 2011 holiday season. The group has sent more than 28,000 cards and letters. There are other groups organizing similar efforts; a list of the groups and how to contact them follows:
I want to start out by telling you what a great feeling it is to open a letter from someone you have never met before and feel so loved by a complete stranger...Thank you for all that you do. Alpha troop 6/17 CAV sends their most heartfelt appreciation to all.”��- Tracy