The Strength Behind the Strong website. Proudly supporting our friends and family in the U.S. military, including Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.


The Strength Behind The Strong was founded by Christine Hofmann-Bourque, who is proud to have a husband in the Army, three brothers in the Navy and Army, and a sister-in-law in the Army. Christine is also a professional journalist. Read our first post to find out why this website is so close to her heart. More >>

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Entries in Care packages (31)


Go Green, Save Green: The secret to reusing boxes for military care packages

Attention fellow military care package senders: Raise your hand if you save and reuse boxes like this well-worn one (below), which has clearly bumped and banged its way through the mail system several times. You’ll love this quick trick that gives new life to those old boxes while also removing the hassles of inking out labels and trying to squeeze on yet another address and customs form. 

Image of a cardboard box for military care packages covered in crossed-out mailing labels. From

It’s simple. First, untape every box flap. Next, locate the glued seam (there is usually just one) and carefully tear it apart so that it lays flat like the box below. Leave all those ugly stickers right where they are.

Image of the military care package box cut along the glued seam and flattened out into a single layer of cardboard. From

Finally, turn the box inside out, then refold and retape so that all the old labels and hand-scrawled addresses are hidden on the inside. 

Image of the military care package box taped back together inside-out. Old labels are on the inside, clean cardboard is on the outside. From

Good as new! Send your freshened-up box on its way. It’s got many more trips left in it.

Free boxes are great, now how about some ideas for free items to put inside that care package? Check out “Zip, zilch, nada, zero: Useful and fun care package items that won’t cost you a penny.”


Flat Rate Priority Mail: If it fits, it ships, but is it the cheapest option for military care packages?

Updated on November 14, 2011 by Registered CommenterChristine Hofmann-Bourque

There are certain numbers I prefer not to know, like the total calories in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream, or where the arrow points on the scale after eating said pint of ice cream. But when it comes to postage for military care packages, I pay attention to every single penny. After all, I’d rather spend my money on what goes inside a care package, not on shipping.

And until this summer, I was confident that I was getting the best deal for my postage dollars.  

A postal clerk here in Massachusetts showed me otherwise, when she very nicely pointed out that I paid 35 percent more than needed on three care packages to Iraq. Ouch. 

I have sent every one of my overseas military care packages by Priority Mail through the U.S. Postal Service because it’s both fast and cost-effective. But this summer — seduced by those “If it fits, it ships” ads for Flat Rate Priority Mail — I started sending care packages by Flat Rate Priority Mail instead of the traditional, zone-based Priority Mail, which determines postage based on a package’s weight and the distance it will travel. I figured that because care packages often feel like they’re heavier than a soldier’s backpack, the flat-rate pricing must save me money, right?

As my wallet learned the hard way, sometimes the answer is “No.”

There is zero difference between Flat Rate Priority Mail and zone-based Priority Mail except for the pricing structures. Both take exactly the same amount of time to deliver your military care packages to Afghanistan or Guam or wherever they're heading.

Lessons Learned Part 1: CARE PACKAGES TO IRAQ
A few weeks ago, I sent three care packages to Iraq, all of varying weights. I used three medium-size flat-rate Priority Mail boxes.

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Going Postal: Make sense of military mail addresses

To this civilian, military postal addresses look as if they are written in top-secret code. APO? AE? Ay yi yi! But deciphering the acronyms and abbreviations is actually quite simple and logical. Just as mail sent within the United States needs a city, state, and zip code, military mail requires three similar components: APO/FPO, AE/AP/AA, and a zip code. These are the basics.

#1. APO or FPO. These abbreviations indicate to which branch of the military the mail is being sent. Write it in the place you would normally put a city’s name.

  • APO is short for Army/Air Force Post Office. As its name suggests, it delivers to members of the Army and Air Force. 
  • FPO stands for Fleet Post Office. It delivers mail to Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps personnel.

All military mail must be addressed to a specific serviceperson. (We blacked out the name on this letter, which has an obsolete address.) For security reasons, mail addressed to "Any Soldier" won't be delivered.

#2. AE, AP, or AA. These codes indicate the region of the world where a military member is serving. They take the place of a state abbreviation.

  • AE stands for Armed Forces Europe, but delivers mail to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and more. This is the code you would use if you send military mail to Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, or Bahrain.
  • AP stands for Armed Forces Pacific. Mail to South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines, for example, will have an “AP” address.
  • AA stands for Armed Forces Americas, which includes military mail to Central and South America. 

#3. Zip code. Military mail uses zip codes, which are written in the same place as domestic zip codes. The first two digits of a five-digit military zip code tells you where the military mail is processed before heading out of the United States; the next three digits are specific to your serviceperson’s military unit.

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Zip, zilch, nada, zero: Useful and fun care package items that won’t cost you a penny

Freedom may not be free, but the goodies you gather for your care packages can be. Get creative with these nine tips to fill a box without emptying your wallet.

#1. Popular magazines. Instead of tossing your magazines into a recycling bin, send them overseas. But don’t go digging in the basement to unearth your stack of Reader’s Digest magazines from the 1970s. If you’re not interested in reading it, chances are the troops aren’t either.

“General newsstand publications such as Maxim and Esquire, which regularly feature what the Greatest Generation might have called ‘pinups’ or ‘cheesecake,’ are ... highly sought after by troops in some areas,” commented Charlie Sherpa, a soldier who blogs at, after our “9 Most Wanted Care Package Items (and 3 items to skip)” post.  “You can also send automotive, humor, hunting, military history, and other magazines — they also have a lot of trade-and-swap value, with both U.S. and Allied personnel.”

Our secret to cheerful care packages? Tie a pretty ribbon around even the most ordinary objects, including recycled magazines.

#2. Catalogs. Help a female servicemember look forward to the day she can trade her BDUs for something prettier by shipping her the mail-order catalogs that land in your mailbox. Think of it as remote window shopping from Iraq or Afghanistan. Send favorites like J. Crew, Lands’ End, and Sundance Catalog. For cooks and bakers, save up catalogs from Williams-Sonoma. For gardeners, dig up some seed catalogs, such as Burpee.

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Record speed! One care package makes it to Iraq in 5 days

Last Friday, May 28, four-year-old Greta and six-year-old Devon (with a tiny bit of help from their mom, Jennifer) sent care packages to Iraq — including one to their Adopt an MP soldier. We got word that at least one of the boxes arrived in Baghdad yesterday, June 2. That’s five quick days, counting both the weekend and Memorial Day holiday. Kudos to the folks handling military mail!

Picture of a child's painting of bunny rabbits, titled Greta, 4, titled her masterpiece "Army Bunnies." The girl's got talent! It took just five days for a Priority Mail package with this picture to reach its destination in Iraq.

Greta and Devon’s packages were sent through the U.S. Postal Service using Priority Mail, which we have found is fast and cost-effective. One piece of advice we learned the hard way: Think twice before using Parcel Post mail. Sure, it may save you a few bucks, but the trade-off is transit time. Recently, a (non-military) birthday gift sent via Parcel Post took a whopping 21 days just to move from Des Moines, Iowa, to Boston. That’s more than enough time to turn homemade cookies in a care package from scrumptious to stale. 


9 Most Wanted Care Package Items (and 3 things to skip)

Stuffing care packages for soldiers you know is easy: You already know their favorite cookies, their taste in movies, and if they have a dry or silly sense of humor. But Sheila from Ohio — who was one of the first to sign up for our Adopt an MP program — asks an excellent question: What do you send to a young man or woman who is (at least for now) a stranger? Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, plus some care-package-sending gurus, weigh in with these can’t-miss ideas.
#1. Low-tech games. In high demand are decks of cards and inexpensive poker chips.
#2. Old DVDs. Don’t splurge on the newest movie releases. The fact is, the black market is alive and well in Iraq, so new movies are readily available. Instead, search for classics like Smokey and the Bandit, The Jerk, and Raising Arizona, which you’ll often find in the bargain bins.
#3. Anything girly. For female soldiers, of course. Think scented soaps, sachets, nail files, and nice shampoo and conditioner. “You can always get the basics in Iraq,” says one female soldier, “but the good stuff is much harder to come by.”

It's care package heaven in this Navy pilot's office in Iraq: Two boxes of Utz chips and snacks, Girl Scout cookies, and a kid's drawing tacked to the wall.
#4. Individually wrapped snacks. Potato chips, M&Ms, and anything from Little Debbie will be a crowd pleaser. They’re the right size — and easy to pack — for eating on patrol or at a work desk.
#5. Big and small resealable plastic baggies. If you’re going to mail larger packages of snacks, send along small baggies so that your soldier can make individual snack bags (see #4). Send big baggies too so leftovers can be kept fresh and safe from mice and bugs.
#6. Anything fun! Mari from Australia — another of our Adopt an MP participants — has been sending care packages to American and Australian troops for a long time. One of her favorite gifts: a water-balloon launcher. “I wasn’t quite sure what he [Mari’s newly adopted MP] would need or could use so I just took a punt on it being something to make him smile,” she says. “Oh, okay — confession time — also to make him the envy of everyone else in his unit.” (To the 108th MP Company: We look forward to seeing pictures of that toy in action from Iraq!)

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Adopt an MP Update: All boots are on the ground in Iraq

Our adopted soldiers from the 108th MP Company (ABN/AASLT) are officially in Iraq. The countdown until they come home can begin! Our terrific group of volunteers will be sending out their first letters this week. Hooah! We still have 14 soldiers waiting to be adopted. If you are interested, please join us and Adopt an MP. Straight from Iraq, here is a picture of their “new” command post. Stay tuned for more updates.

Photograph of a pale yellow corrugated metal shack, which looks somewhat trailer-like. It has small windows and is rusty in places. From the Iraq command post of the 108th MP Company from Fort Bragg, it's been 90 degrees and humid this week. The building is small: 15 x 30 feet.


AIRBORNE! Help us adopt 50 single soldiers who are heading to Iraq

Several readers have written to us to say, I’m ready to bake cookies or dye Easter eggs for care packages, but I don’t know any soldiers serving overseas. Here’s your chance to send some American cheer to Iraq. In early April, the 108th Military Police (MP) Company (Airborne) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will deploy to Iraq for 12 months. They will be performing Law and Order operations in three different parts of the country. Some of these men and women will be on their third, fourth, and even fifth overseas tours. We’re ready to put all our care package skills to work: We are going to adopt the 50 or so single soldiers in the 108th MP Company. Will you help? It promises to be an uplifting task. 

Safe travels to Captain Matthew Hofmann (pictured, far left, in Kosovo in 2002) and the 108th Military Police Company, who are off to Iraq.

We’re still working out the details, but these are the basics:

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Hop to it! Deliver real Easter eggs to your overseas sweetie

A dozen eggs from the commissary at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts? $1.52. Egg decorating kit? $2.63. Sending cheerful, handmade Easter eggs to a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? Priceless. The key to this gift is one simple trick: Empty the eggs by blowing out the yolks and whites. You will be left with hollow Easter eggs that — hip hop hooray! — won’t spoil during their trip overseas. Here’s how to do it: 

O say can you see the small holes on top of these hollow Easter eggs? Barely.

  1. Wash raw eggs. The shells may carry harmful bacteria, so clean them for safety’s sake.
  2. Use a pin or needle to poke holes in both ends of each egg. Make the hole on the egg’s bottom slightly larger than the one on top so that it is easier for the egg’s insides to exit. Leave the eggs in the carton while you’re poking them, below; that way there is less chance of accidentally smashing the eggs while you’re holding them.

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Boxed Set: Get a free military care package kit

If there’s one thing that is always in demand in our military household, it’s a sturdy care package box. Actually, make that two things: a care package box and chocolate. Both, I’ve found, are necessities when a loved one is deployed. The U.S. Postal Service can fill one of those needs.

A free Military Care Kit is available to anyone who will be shipping goodies overseas using Priority Mail to our service members. The kit includes:

  • 6 flat-rate Priority Mail boxes (medium and large sizes)
  • 1 roll of packing tape
  • 6 address labels
  • 6 customs declarations forms with envelopes

Bake it, box it, ship it! When you order a free Military Care Kit, all that is missing from your care packages are some homemade cookies. Peanut butter blossoms, perhaps?

You can order the kit by phone only. Call the Postal Service’s Expedited Package Supply Center at 1-800-610-8734 to request a Military Care Kit. (From the automated list of options, choose “1” when asked if you would like to “place a order for Express Mail, Priority Mail, or Global Express Guaranteed products.”) You will need to provide your name and mailing address so your mail carrier can deliver the kit.

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