Chances are that if this is your first time sending a military care package, you have no idea what you’re doing. Not to worry! I’ve been there, and I can give you all the insider tips from great package ideas to rules and guidelines to actual steps to mail the package.
101 Unique Military Care Package Ideas
There are so many different things you can include in a military care package. We’ve come up with 10 unique packages that you can put together for a variety of different occasions and branches of the military.
This means that you don’t even have to spend any time fretting about what to include in a care package. We’ve got you covered. As a side tip, the dollar store is a great place to get items for care packages!
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4th of July Care Package Idea
- Red, white, and blue glow sticks
- Red, white, and blue candy
- Red, white, and blue balloons
- Red, white, and blue sunglasses (silly ones)
- Red, white, and blue rock candy
- An American flag
- A picture of you (and your family) dressed up in red, white, and blue
- USA football
- American flag shirt
- Postcards with American flags with notes from friends and family
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Army/Air Force Care Package Idea
- Quick protein
- Powdered drink mix
- Hand sanitizer
Constitution Day (September 17) Care Package Idea
- Newspaper or magazine (1st Amendment)
- 2nd Amendment shirt (2nd Amendment)
- Picture in front of your home (3rd Amendment)
- Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, or word searches (4th Amendment)
- Double Jeopardy movie (5th Amendment)
- Running shoes (6th Amendment)
- An item that exceeds $20 (7th Amendment)
- Altoids or gum (8th Amendment)
- Board game or deck of cards (9th Amendment)
- Something that will remind your service member of your state (10th Amendment)
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Fall Themed Care Package Idea
- Apple chips/dried apples
- Pumpkin seeds or pumpkin cookies
- Hot chocolate packets
- S’mores breakfast bars
- Sports Illustrated
- Tortilla chips and queso dip
- Team gear (if your service member likes football)
- Candy corn
- “Ghost pops”
Female Service Member Care Package Idea
- Bath bomb
- Body lotion
- Face mask
- Bobby pins
- Hair ties
- Fuzzy socks
- Body scrub
- Feminine products
- A long note telling your female service member how much you care about her
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Meat Lovers Care Package Idea
- Beef jerky
- Summer sausage
- Smoked ham
- Turkey jerky
- Turkey sausage
- Bacon habanero chips
- Bison jerky
- Venison jerky
- Hard salami
- Hard pepperoni
Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard Care Package Idea
- Beef jerky
- Healthy snacks
- Words of encouragement
- Reading materials
- Homemade goodies in an airtight container
- Dried fruit
- Writing materials (including stamps so your service member can write you back)
Superhero Themed Care Package Idea
- Superhero socks
- Superhero shirt
- Energy bars
- Superhero movies loaded on a flash drive
- Comic books
- Superhero Mad Libs
- Superhero napkins
- Superhero cookies (designed for long travels)
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Thanksgiving Themed Care Package Idea
- Dried cranberries
- Green bean chips
- Smoked ham/ham sticks
- Pumpkin pie pop-tarts
- Sweet potato or potato chips
- Apple cider packets
- Stuffing mix
- Turkey jerky
- Picture of you (and your family) in fall colors/with pumpkins
- A letter or short note of gratitude to your service member
Tropical Themed Care Package Idea
- Dried pineapples
- Dried papaya
- Dried plantains
- Something with coconut in it (like Samoas)
- Macadamia nuts
- Dried mangoes
- Tropical flavored candy like Skittles or Starburst
- Jelly Belly tropical mix
Military Care Package Guidelines And Rules
In order to have smooth sailing at the post office, we’ll help you navigate the regulations for sending a military care package overseas. As an overview, you need to know what items to send and not to send, how to address the package and customs form, and how to get the package mailed, including options that don’t require you to go to the post office! We’ll cover all of that in this section.
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Items That You Should NOT Include in a Military Care Package
The USPS prohibits the following items for international shipping, so you should NOT include these items in your care package:
- Air bags
- Alcoholic beverages
- Dry ice
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Marijuana (medical or other)
- Nail polish
- Perfumes (containing alcohol)
Items That You Might Not Be Able to Include in a Military Care Package
If your service member is deployed to the Middle East or the Persian Gulf areas, you need to be aware of restrictions to Muslim countries.
You cannot send pork or any pork by-products, obscene material, religious materials contrary to Islam, non-authorized political materials, or any pornographic material (including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition!).
Occasionally, other countries will have restrictions, which you can easily discover by downloading the latest postal bulletin and going to the section about overseas military/diplomatic mail.
You can also find the specific items that you cannot send to the APO or FPO zip code for your service member by going to this link and entering the five-digit APO/DPO zip code for your service member.
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Items That You Should Include in a Military Care Package
You should always remember to include a letter—or at the minimum, a short note—to your service member.
I’ve always found that service members most appreciate letters and pictures.
I personally would recommend sending at least a few items in each of these categories:
- Food/drink items (including snacks, candy, and drink mixes)
- Personal care items (including clothing)
- Entertainment items (including reading material, games, and electronics)
- Communication items (including envelopes, stamps, and phone cards [if applicable])
- Home items (including personal letters, drawings from your kids, pictures of your family, Sunday comics, and so forth)
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How To Send A Care Package
If you’re sending a care package to a family member or friend in the Armed Forces, you’ll need to make sure that you package them properly. Once you’ve picked up your items, you’ll need to box them up.
Your best bet for mailing a package is priority mail, and you can pick up any size flat-rate priority box from the post office to send to your service member. In fact, if you’re thinking of mailing a care package a couple weeks from now, you can even order a kit from the USPS website for free that will include packing tape and different size flat-rate priority boxes.
Now that all your items are boxed up—don’t forget to include a note!—you should consider putting an address label in the package. That way if the box gets damaged, it can still get to your service member thanks to the address inside.
After your box is completely sealed, you’ll need to make sure that it is addressed properly on the outside and then fill out the customs form.
Even if you know what country your service member is in, do NOT write that on the package. Instead, you always use APO/FPO. For the country box, you should always fill in United States. If you’re still unsure, you can look at this envelope graphic on the USPS website to make sure you addressed your care package correctly.
Next, you’ll need to address the customs form. There are a variety available to you, but I’d recommend PS Form 2976 (CN-22) because it has the fewest sections to fill out. You don’t need to list every single item in the care package. Just write broad categories like snacks, toys, books, etc.
Finally, you’ll need to mail your package. You can either do this at the post office or online through Click-N-Ship by printing shipping and postage labels and scheduling a pick-up at no extra cost from your home. If you use Click-N-Ship, you’ll fill out the customs label online.
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Random Service Member
If you don’t have any family members or friends currently deployed, but you would still like to send a care package, the process will look a little different. After 9/11, you cannot send a care package to an unnamed individual.
Thus, your options are to send a care package that you purchase through an organization or put together one yourself that you ship through an organization. You can also send specific items through an organization like Operation Gratitude.
Military.com has a list of vetted organizations that facilitate care packages to military personnel, and it includes the following organizations:
- Any Soldier Inc.
- Operation Gratitude
- Operation: Care and Comfort
- Operation Homefront
- Silver Star Families of America
- The Mission Continues
As a caution, remember that there are organizations that purport to facilitate care packages to service members overseas, but in actuality are just scams. When you select an organization to mail your care package through, make sure it is trustworthy.
If you don’t feel like taking the time to put together a care package yourself, you can send a pre-made package through an organization. My personal recommendation is Hero Care Packages, which is 100% veteran owned and operated. I have used it once myself and can confirm that a beautifully put-together package will get to a service member of the branch of your choosing.
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Questions You May Still Have
How much does it cost to send a care package overseas?
Mailing a care package overseas to a deployed service member with an APO/FPO zip code (or letter actually!) is actually the exact same price as mailing something in the United States. If you send a letter, you’ll just use a normal stamp, and for flat-rate boxes, they cost just the same to send overseas.
A small flat-rate box (which you probably won’t use because it’s so tiny) is $7.90, while a medium flat-rate box is $14.35. The USPS gives a slight discount if you’re mailing a large flat-rate box to an APO/FPO zip code, and it will cost you $18.45 instead of $19.95.
If you send a care package that you haven’t put together yourself through an organization, it will probably cost you more like $40-$50, but you’ll save a lot of time!
How long will it take to get there?
Normally, it will take about 2 weeks for your care package to get to your service member if you send it priority mail. You will NOT be able to track it once it leaves the United States. But it may take more or less time than 2 weeks. I sent one care package that arrived in a week! If you ship around the holidays, it is going to take more time.
Is there anything in particular that service members REALLY want in care packages?
Yes! They especially want letters and memories of home. Other items that are always crowd-pleasers are beef jerky and other quick protein options. Some service members really like receiving candy while others don’t like that as well. It’s best to ask your service member what he or she would like!
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Are there any tricks you can recommend?
Yep, I do! If you want to save a ton on shipping, try a regional rate box. Regional Rate A roughly corresponds to a medium flat-rate box while Regional Rate B is similar to a large flat-rate box. Instead of paying $18 to ship a large flat-rate box, you can pay as little as $6 for a shipment.
You’ll likely have to get the Regional Rate boxes from the USPS store online, but don’t worry. They will ship them to you for free. Then you’ll weigh your regional rate box and enter the weight on Click-N-Ship, which will determine how much it will cost to ship. After that, all you’ll need to do is slap a label on your care package and either schedule a package pick-up or drop it off at the post office. You won’t have to worry about waiting in line ever again!
All right. That was a lot of information, but don’t worry! I have it all summarized for you here. Depending on what your service member wants/needs, put together a care package with around 10 items, give or take. If you don’t have any ideas, try one of ours!
Remember to double-check before you take your care package to the post office that you are only sending items that are good to go. Make sure that you aren’t sending anything that isn’t allowed, and remember that this can vary by deployment location.
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Finally, remember that it will probably take at least two weeks for your care package to get to your service member. It can seem really overwhelming at first to figure out everything about mailing a care package, but you’ll soon become a pro! Good luck!
What do you put in a military care package?
Along with long letters and lots of pictures from home, deployed service members may have different needs depending on where they’re stationed. In rough conditions, send socks, snacks, and hygiene items.
What can you not put in a military care package?
USPS prohibits the following items for international shipping, so do NOT include them in your care package to overseas service members: aerosols, alcohol, ammunition, cigarettes, fireworks, fresh fruits and vegetables, marijuana, nail polish, or perfume.
Do drill sergeants read your letters?
Drill sergeants in Basic Training will not open and read your mail, however, you may have to open packages in front of him or her so they can check it for any contraband.
Where can I send care packages for troops?
If you would like to send a care package to a random deployed soldier, you can ship requested items through organizations like Hero Care Packages, Any Soldier, Operation Gratitude, Operation Homefront, and others.
How long does it take for a package to get to an APO address?
Once it departs the USPS warehouse, the Military Postal Service Agency will move and deliver your package. Prior Mail usually takes between 10 to 15 days, depending on your distance from a military air hub.