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.

WHY WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT OUR TROOPS (AKA OUR FIRST POST)

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 Deployment (28)

Tuesday
Jan172012

Operation Cookie Update: 2011 ends with cookies, cookies, cookies

The cookies have landed! We have confirmation that the Operation Cookie Overload packages sent to our Marines arrived in Afghanistan around Christmas. Judy, our Marine mom, was able to talk to her son via satellite phone for a short four minutes after Christmas, and he said many packages had arrived and he and his Marines were expecting another shipment within a few days. Our Army contact in Afghanistan, CPT O., also received many, many packages. He was thrilled and shared this sweet photo, below. And although we know you baked and packed cookies without any expectation of thanks, I know many of you received thoughtful notes in the mail from CPT O. 

CPT O., our Army soldier in Afghanistan, shared his Operation Cookie Overload packages with Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel nearby.Judy passes along her thanks to each and every one of you from her son and his fellow Marines.

I am in amazement of your outreach and the warmth and concern for our overseas troops. Again, I, as a mother, … cannot express how important you and your contacts mean to we the families of these young people who are making sacrifices daily on all our behalf thousands of miles from home with no comfort, in danger continuously, and far from their loved ones at the holidays. Can you imagine being cold, homesick, scared and trying to be brave and tough and performing your job daily under these circumstances? I personally have learned a lot from my 19-year-old son and his friends how important it is to let the world not forget them or their sacrifice for this nation. They are all true heroes who deserve our respect. Thank you … for your ability to make them feel a little love from the homefront. I hope you all continue the good works and even though the Christmas season is behind us, let us keep the concern and appreciation of our troops on our minds, in our hearts and actions as long as they are over there in harms way and apart from their loved ones. God bless you all.

Thanks to all our Operation Cookie Overload participants who helped end 2011 on a sugary note for our troops. And remember, there are only 342 days until Christmas 2012 …

Tuesday
Dec202011

Picture Perfect: Cookies, cookies, and more Operation Cookie Overload cookies

Now that Operation Cookie Overload has finished baking and shipping for the 2011 holidays, it’s time for more photos. Note: We have not heard whether packages have arrived to the Marines in Afghanistan, but boxes have arrived in Afghanistan to our Army soldier, who has been sharing your goodies with Army, Air Force, and Navy personnel working nearby. We will keep you updated as we get more cookie news.

#1. We think Sue from Massachusetts may have set an Operation Cookie Overload record with her flat-rate box: It weighed in at 18 pounds! Her trick: vacuuming sealing her cookies, which not only keeps homemade goodies super-fresh, but also makes it easier to pack more into a box. 

 

#2. In addition to a box full of homemade and store-bought treats, Ann from Texas enclosed pictures of her family on mini horses. That is sure to give our Marines a good laugh! 


 

#3. Manda from Wyoming works at a middle school where the students wrote letters to our service people in honor of Veterans Day. She packaged up those letters along with cookies, beef jerky, hard candies, crosswords, and suduko puzzles.

 

#4. Mary and Kevin from New Hampshire sent snow-filled greetings to the desert! 

 

#5. Ann Marie and her mini baking buddy, Alexandra, made chocolate chip cookies, M&M cookies, and peanut butter cookies with mini Reese’s peanut-butter cups. We’re not sure what’s sweeter, the baby or the cookies.


 

#6. Want to see what else our nation’s finest will be snacking on this holiday? Here are some more packages that were shipped out in November and December from Suzanne in Massachusetts, Valerie in Missouri, Jamie from West Virginia, and Emily from New York. We have just one word: Yum.

 

Sunday
Dec112011

Operation Cookie Overload: Our Marine mom is overwhelmed by your support

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas now that all the Operation Cookie Overload elves have filled up the military mail with all sorts of holiday treats! Our final tally is impressive: We had 180 people/groups from 41 states step up to send cookies to make the holidays a bit sweeter for some of our troops in Afghanistan.

As you know, we started Operation Cookie Overload after we received an email from Judy, a Marine mom whose 19-year-old son is serving overseas this holiday. We thought we could rally some kind folks to send a few cookie care packages to Judy’s son. We had no idea so many people would want to bake and ship packages! So we expanded our mission and are successfully on our way to overloading this young man’s entire Marine unit — all 225 of them — with cookies! (We also sent some packages to an Army soldier in Afghanistan who is sharing the cookie joy too.) No one is more appreciative of your care package efforts than Judy, who shared these thoughts:

I am humbled by the outpouring of your participation in Operation Cookie Overload. What a blessing this will be to our young Marines serving our country in a foreign, far-away country during the Christmas season. I appreciate all of you and your generosity of time and caring hearts; your patriotism and prayers are greatly appreciated. May you all have a Merry Christmas and know that you have been truly an example of remembering the reason for the season: thinking of others and loving our fellow man. There is so much more to learn and love about our great country and our people, and you all are an example of the best part of being in this proud country of ours, the USA. I for one am proud to be an American and am proud of our people and appreciate our military forces and their sacrifices to keep our nation free and proud and, most of all, safe for our families to share and enjoy the love and freedoms that make us America. Thank you and may you all be blessed this day and always. —Judy

 

A full Santa suit for baking cookies! We love it! Lisa from Arizona and two of her sons packed their boxes with everything from white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and peanut butter cookies to Oreos and beef jerky.

Friday
Dec022011

Words Matter: Read one 12-year-old’s Operation Cookie Overload letter

Brandon, a 12-year-old from Kansas, included this letter in his Operation Cookie Overload packages, which his group sent to both our Marines and our Army soldier in Afghanistan. How thoughtful and articulate! Thanks, Brandon, for helping us bring some holiday cheer to our men and women serving overseas! (Click the image, below, to enlarge and read.) 

We have eight mailing days left for Operation Cookie Overload. If you would like to participate, you still have time. Send an email to christinestrength@me.com or use this secure form

Sunday
Nov272011

Operation Cookie Overload Update: 13 mailing days left, 225 hungry Marines!

This Thanksgiving weekend, we’re grateful for the sacrifices of the men and women in our military, especially those who spent the holiday far from their families and friends. We’re also grateful for the amazing supporters of our troops who are participating in Operation Cookie Overload. Our numbers keep rising: We now have 132 people/groups from 35 states sending cookie-filled care packages to Marines in Afghanistan for Christmas!

We started Operation Cookie Overload to help make the holidays sweeter for a 19-year-old Marine who will be in Afghanistan this holiday season. We thought we could get a handful of nice folks to send a few cookie care packages to this young man to share with his buddies. We had no idea so many people would want to bake and ship packages! So we’re now on a mission to overload his entire Marine unit — all 225 of them — with cookies!

If you haven’t joined us yet, there is still time. (See our contact information below.) The deadline for mailing Priority Mail packages through the U.S. Postal Service is December 10th in order to guarantee delivery by December 25th. Please keep spreading the word about Operation Cookie Overload!

Terri from Virginia sent her Operation Cookie Overload boxes right before Thanksgiving. Her treats? Three kinds of cookies, beef jerky, and lots of candies.

So who is participating? We have Vietnam veterans and Gulf War veterans. There are grandmothers and their grandchildren, Marine moms, Army wives, a Marine sister, and roommates who just want to say “thanks.” We have Postal Service employees and firefighters, hospital workers and Girl Scout troops. There are even several cookie swap parties that will be making a few extra boxes for our Marines. We can’t think of a more thoughtful way to get in the holiday spirit. 

For those of you who are still putting your packages together, we want to pass along this terrific tip from Sharon from Indiana, who says she’s been sending cookie-filled military care packages for years: “I usually send things that have both nuts and NO nuts with my packages. I always mark each inner bag with what the item is and if it has nuts or not. I don’t figure the Marines that are in remote areas usually have allergies to nuts, but not everyone likes to eat them.” 

Heart-shaped brownies heading to Afghanistan for Operation Cookie Overload from Marguerite from California. (Click the picture, above, to read her blog posting.)

Do you have questions about Operation Cookie Overload? Get the details here:

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday
Nov182011

Operation Cookie Overload Update: Our Marine mom says “thank you”

Just 22 mailing days left for Operation Cookie Overload! Ginger from Ohio — along with her adorable three-year-old daughter/helper, below — mailed off a big box of homemade cookies today to our Marines in Afghanistan. Yay! When Judy, the mom of our 19-year-old Marine, heard that we have 79 generous people like Ginger in 21 states signed up to send her son and his unit holiday treats, she was thrilled. Here’s what she had to say:

WOW! I am so pleased to hear this, it will really give these Marines a boost! Knowing they are thought of and appreciated by so many kind, thoughtful people all over the country! … You all honestly have no idea how much this mom appreciates all of you! … May you be richly blessed for your thoughtfulness, you all are truly appreciated by all of the moms associated and the wives and family members; sending hugs and many good wishes your way. 

Judy had one update on food requests. She says because her son and his fellow Marines are out on the front lines, they are eating a lot of MREs (meals ready to eat), which don’t have a reputation for being very tasty. So they love any foods that give their taste buds something different. Any other nonperishable food items you want to send with your cookies is welcome, including canned or dried fruit, beef jerky, hot chocolate mix, and portable instant coffee packages.  

Ginger baked and sent four batches of treats for Operation Cookie Overload. (Love the aprons!)

And we have a few housekeeping items:

 Happy baking!

Wednesday
Nov162011

Want to say “Merry Christmas” to a deployed loved one? Mail a tree! 

Put the ho-ho-ho into the holiday season for your deployed service member with this fun project: Send an artificial Christmas tree, then ask all of your friends and family to each send one ornament to decorate the tree. My family and friends did just that for my brother Mark during his deployment to Iraq. None of the ornaments were expensive (sending pricey ornaments to a war zone doesn’t make much sense), but they all brought some holiday cheer abroad.  

Christmas in Baghdad was a little less lonely with a Christmas tree and ornaments from home.

To do this project yourself, keep these things in mind:

  1. Ship the tree and ornaments soon. Military mail deadlines for guaranteed Christmas delivery are fast approaching. Priority Mail packages must be sent by early December in order to arrive overseas by December 25th.
  2. It’s OK to be a cheapskate. Don’t send a valuable, hand-blown glass ornament — or one that is a  family heirloom — into a war zone. You can find interesting, special ornaments for just a few dollars at all sorts of stores this time of year.  
  3. Buy a four-foot (or shorter) artificial tree. Pick one that has branches and trunk that pull apart for easy, compact packing. The mailing box for a tree will be oversize no matter how efficiently its packed, so be prepared to spend extra on postage.  
  4. Ask each sender to mail just one ornament. Part of the fun of this project is that the recipient gets lots (and lots) of little packages spread out over a few weeks. If packed in a small box, one ornament can be sent for about $5 through the US Postal Service.

We also did this project for my husband, Kyle, during his first tour in Iraq. It is a special way to say “Happy Holidays” to someone away from home.

The first of two Christmases Kyle spent with the 1st Mountain Division in Iraq. 

Tuesday
Nov152011

It’s Your Duty: Filling out customs forms for military care packages

Almost all military care packages that are sent overseas have one thing in common: They require a customs form, or more officially a Customs Declaration and Dispatch Note (2976-A). You can pick the forms up at your local post office; you’ll need to fill out one for every package you send. The biggest challenge is figuring out where to put the various pieces of a military address; ask the postal clerk if you’re not sure. Here is a sample form that highlights the sections you should fill out (click the image to enlarge):

A few more things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t tape the customs form to your package. Simply hand it to the postal clerk with your package. The clerk will check it and stamp it before sliding it into a plastic sleeve that sticks to your package.
  2. Don’t write in the destination country. It will cause delivery problems.
  3. The customs form is not a substitute for your package’s mailing address. Your package should be properly addressed with the sender’s and recipient’s information, just as if it were going to California or Maryland instead of Afghanistan. 
  4. In the contents section, you don’t have to list every single thing in a package. If you’re sending two boxes of Oreos, three boxes of RingDings, and four dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies, simply enter “cookies.” Likewise, if you’re sending playing cards, dice, a Frisbee, and a board game, simply write “toys” or “games.”  

 

Sunday
Nov132011

Operation Cookie Overload Update: Our best tips and tricks for baking and sending cookie-filled care packages

That delicious aroma? It’s the clouds of sugar and spices and all things nice that are being whisked and beaten and baked for Operation Cookie Overload, which is our project to bring a little bit of the holidays to some Marines in Afghanistan. Marguerite from California already had her oven cranked up yesterday, whipping up homemade gingerbread cookies, below left, and her own special recipe of Crispy Salty Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Centers, below right. Yum!

Operation Cookie Overload is underway!

We have more than 40 people so far signed up for Operation Cookie Overload to send packages of edible holiday goodies to Afghanistan over the next 27 days. (The holiday deadlines for Priority Mail packages is December 10th.) In the meantime, we’ve gotten a number of questions about cookies and military care packages. So we’ll turn off our mixer for a few minutes to tackle them.

“What homemade cookies ship best?”

  • Bar cookies, brownies, and drop cookies. I tend to stick with classic, all-American recipes: The Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe off the bag of the Nestle chocolate chips, the Quaker’s Best Oatmeal Cookies recipe on the lid of a Quaker Oats container, and the Peanut Butter Blossoms recipe on the back of a Hershey’s Kisses candy bag. (Have you seen our trick for making Peanut Butter Blossoms cookies even better for sending in a military care package? Instead of inserting the candies right-side up, insert them upside-down. Voila! Now the cookies are easy to stack, pack, and ship.) The original peanut butter Hershey's Kiss cookies, left, are delicious but impossible to stack in military care packages. Our secret? Flip the Kisses upside-down, right. They're still tasty, just easier to pack.
  • Don’t send anything that needs to be refrigerated. And don’t send delicate cookies; they’ll likely crumble and break during their long journey overseas.
  • Pack the icing. Iced cookies and brownies are difficult to stack and pack. If you really want to include a sweet topping for your treats, tuck a container of store-bought icing in your package and let the recipient frost the treats themselves.
  • Go ahead and send chocolate. While it’s too hot most of the year to send chocolate because it melts easily — and makes quite a mess — it’s cool enough at the winter holidays to safely send chocolate cookies and candies to Afghanistan.
  • Not sure if something will last? Here’s our simple test. If you would sit a cookie on your counter at home and eat it two weeks later, it’s a good cookie to send. If you wouldn’t, pick a different cookie.

“Can I send homemade candy like peanut brittle?

  • Absolutely. Just follow the same guidelines as above.

“Is it OK to send store-bought treats?

  • Yes, yes, yes! In fact, they’ll stay fresh longer than the homemade items, which is a bonus.

“What is the best shipment method to get my cookie package there on time? I would like to make homemade things but I want to make sure that it will still be good by the time they get it.

  • We send almost all of our packages using Priority Mail from the U.S. Postal Service. And to be sure we are getting the best postage deal, we run the numbers to figure out whether Flat Rate Priority Mail or zone-based Priority Mail is the best option. (You can do your own calculations at home; go to the Postage Price Calculator from the US Postal Service.) Our guess? For heavy packages filled with lots of cookies, Flat Rate Priority Mail is going to be your best bet. A Large Priority Mail Flat Rate box normally costs $14.95 to ship, but when you’re mailing it to an APO/FPO military address, it will only cost $12.95 no matter how much it weighs. A Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate box will cost $10.95 to ship. Remember, you must pack items in a Flat Rate box from the Postal Service in order to get the flat rate; pick up boxes for free at your local post office.

“How long does it take for a package to arrive in Afghanistan?” 

  • We’ve had some of our Priority Mail packages arrive in Iraq and Afghanistan in as little as five days. That said, it takes longer to deliver to remote locations. And if a unit is out on a mission, it may be days or weeks before they return to a place where they can get their mail. 

“How should I pack my cookies?”

  • Use plastic zip-top baggies. I put all my cookies in plastic baggies, squeezing out as much air as possible. The baggies also help keep out the dust and dirt.
  • Use a vacuum sealer, which keeps cookies very fresh, but tends to squish them a bit. My brother Matthew taught me that trick. He used a vacuum sealer to pack homemade bread (yes, bread!) for his wife, Corrie, during her deployment to Afghanistan — and she reports that the bread showed up fresh and mold-free.
  • Choose edible packing materials. Instead of stuffing tissue paper or foam peanuts into a box to fill the empty spaces, I use individually wrapped hard candies. That way the person on the other end can eat the packing material rather than having to throw it out. Sweet! 
  • Recycle Pringles potato chip containers. Melisse, a military spouse from applebutterantics.blogspot.com, gave us this great suggestion: “I have found it works better using Pringles tubes! You can stack the cookies ... and also keep them from being crushed as the box is thrown around. I also put some cling wrap over the top before I secure the lid as it will pop open otherwise.”

 “Can I include other items in my box, like playing cards, wipes or DVDs?"

  • Our Marine mom, Judy, says that her son and his fellow Marines are requesting boxes of only food. Seems we have some hungry Marines on our hands! So save the non-edible items for a different care package.

 “Is it OK if I put a Christmas card in my box?" 

  • Definitely. Please tell these Marines a little about you and why you’re sending this box. There can never be too much holiday cheer.

 

Thursday
Nov102011

Operation Cookie Overload: Will you help a Marine mom make her deployed son’s Christmas merry and bright?

It seems appropriate on this Veterans Day to ask for your help for our newest project supporting some of our youngest men in uniform. Many, many of you have emailed us to ask how you can send cookies to some of our troops this holiday season. Here’s your chance. Judy, a Marine mom, has a 19-year-old son, Solomon, serving on the front lines in Afghanistan. She says: 

The unit my son is with has endured a lot of injuries and loss of these selfless young men. It is heartbreaking to see these families go through these ordeals let alone what these brave young men are enduring on a daily basis. I cannot imagine! ... I am asking for your help in making these young heroes have a nice holiday. ... I am very proud of my son and his fellow comrades.

In the spirit of the season, we’re launching Operation Cookie Overload. Let’s get baking and let Judy’s son and his fellow Marines know that we’ve got them in our thoughts. 

Now, the nitty-gritty (and sugary) details:

  1. Sign up! To participate, send us a private email with your complete name and address. (Email us at christinestrength@me.com or use this secure form.) We’ll then email you this young Marine’s name and the military address to send your box of edible goodies. 
  2. Take OPSEC seriously. An important reminder: Because these Marines are in a war zone, privacy and security is a top priority. Do not post this Marine’s name or address online or elsewhere. OPSEC (Operations Security) is something we take seriously. 
  3. Send only edible items. These Marines are always on the move, so they don’t need extra holiday trinkets to lug around. Judy requests that you send boxes full of food items only.  
  4. Bake or shop. Homemade cookies are great, but don’t forget about all the other holiday treats that fill the stores this time of year. The commissary at Hanscom Air Force Base where we shop is filled with all sorts of goodies, like candy-cane Oreo cookies (yum!) and powdered-sugar-covered Pferreneusse. Store-bought treats like these are big favorites of our troops, and they’ll stay fresh much longer than home-baked versions.
  5. Send enough to share! Judy’s son will be sharing all these goodies with his fellow Marines, so send enough to pass around. Where sweets are concerned, the more, the merrier!
  6. Mail your box soon. The deadlines for guaranteed mail delivery to military overseas addresses by December 25th is fast approaching. For this particular address, Priority Mail must be sent by December 10th. Parcel Post must be sent by November 12th. (We harp on this a lot, and we’ll do it again: Parcel Post is slower than molasses. So if you’re sending homemade Giant Molasses Cookies, don’t use Parcel Post. The cookies will most certainly arrive stale. Only use Parcel Post if you’re sending store-bought items with a long shelf life.)
  7. You are responsible for shipping costs. Our best advice is pick up your mailing boxes first, then buy and bake items that fit into it. Because cookies and food can add up weight-wise, the least expensive way to ship is likely a Priority Mail Large Flat Rate box. It normally costs $14.95 to ship, but when you’re mailing it to an APO/FPO military address, it will only cost $12.95 no matter how much it weighs. A Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate box will cost $10.95 to ship. 
  8. Get packing tips. The nice folks at Taste of Home magazine did a terrific story on The Strength Behind the Strong — with tons of great military care package tips — in the new November issue (page 80). Check out our video too!
  9. Snap some pictures. We’d love to know what goodies you're sending. So send us some pictures of you and your family baking and assembling your boxes. We’d love to post them here on our website.

Finally, be sure to include a card in your care package. Go ahead and tell these Marines a little about yourself. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a written thank you. These Marines are understandably busy with life-and-death situations. But you’ll know that you’ve sent some young Marines a piece of Christmas from home. And that’s one of the best gifts you can give this season.

No, this isn't a photo of the Marines who’d love cookies! But it’s two of my favorite vets, my husband, Kyle, and his battle buddy during two tours to Iraq, Rich. Happy Veterans Day to all who have served or are serving.