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 Mail (11)


It’s a Wrap: 2012 overseas mailing deadlines for Christmas packages

The chill in the air can only mean one thing: The Christmas holidays are fast approaching, as are the deadlines for mailing packages to those serving overseas. From the U.S. Post Office, here are the dates to keep in mind if you’ll be sending holiday gifts overseas this year.

Gift boxes — especially if they contain holiday cookies — can weigh quite a bit, so use the USPS Postage Price Calculator to figure out the different ways and costs to ship your packages. We are fans of Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes and have found them to generally be the fastest and least expensive option. The large boxes cost $13.45 when mailed to an APO/FPO/DPO address, a $2 savings over the regular domestic shipping rates. Merry Christmas! 


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.”  



Wrap it, ship it! 2011 Christmas military mail deadlines announced

Given that there are several inches of snow on the ground this morning in Massachusetts, it feels like the perfect time to talk about Christmas! Keep these mailing deadlines in line if you’ll be sending holiday gifts overseas to your military loved ones this year.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had great luck with the U.S. Postal Service and military mail. During our Adopt an MP program we even had one package make it to Iraq in just five days! But I’m not a fan of Parcel Post. Not only is it slow (Christmas cookies will likely be stale on arrival when sent via Parcel Post), but often Parcel Post is only pennies less expensive than Priority Mail. So for most of my boxes, I stick with Priority Mail. (To stretch your shipping dollars, be sure to calculate whether traditional zone-based Priority Mail or Flat Rate Priority Mail is your best option.) Merry Christmas!   


Holiday Gift Idea for Deployed Warriors: Send blank (yes, blank) cards 

The new Company Commander of the 108th MP Company emailed me from Iraq with a terrific idea for anyone who has loved ones deployed overseas this holiday season: Send them boxes of blank Christmas cards so they can mail holiday greetings from Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever Hallmark stores are in short supply. I bought two boxes of cards for each of my Adopt an MP soldiers, including this “believe” card. Be sure to mail the blank cards soon: They need time to make the journey overseas — and back — by Christmas. 

The Reindeer Believe holiday cards from channel the spirit of the season.


Ho, Ho, Ho! Military mail deadlines loom for Christmas presents to Iraq and Afghanistan

It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas! My mother-in-law Bette emailed a picture of the sweet red-white-and-blue stocking she knitted for her Adopt an MP soldier, Sarah. (Here’s just a small peek, in case Sarah is reading this posting. Merry Christmas, Sarah!) 

Because Bette’s military package will be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service instead of by flying reindeer, it is headed to the post office very soon. There are two to three weeks left to send packages and letters for guaranteed delivery by December 25th. Mark these military mail deadlines on your calendar: 

To all you fellow procrastinators, I’ve found that even when letters and presents are sent a few days after these dates, they still make it overseas in time. But why risk it? Get in the Christmas spirit — and the post office lines — early this year. For more information on 2010 holiday military mail, read “Shipping Out the Holidays to Military Heroes” from the U.S. Post Office.  

**I love the U.S. Postal Service, but I suspect Parcel Post is still delivered by mules. I avoid it and prefer to spend a few cents more for Priority Mail.


Haven’t heard from your [a] Adopt an MP soldier [b] deployed friend or [c] brother in boot camp? Send a form letter. (It works!)

We are seven months into our year-long Adopt an MP program, and lots of letters, postcards, and care packages have been sent to Iraq. Our volunteers have been real troupers, sending cheer to strangers overseas to make sure these soldiers know they are not forgotten. But while many volunteers have received thank-you letters or email updates — or have friended their soldier on Facebook — others haven’t heard that their packages have made it to Iraq. (For the record, we know that everyone in the 108th MP Company is safe, thanks to the newsletters the Company puts out every month.)

All of us understand that these young men and women have tough jobs, and we’re sure they’d prefer to spend their spare time eating cookies and relaxing, rather than stressing over letters to strangers. So here’s an idea to bridge the gap and make things easy on the soldier — and give you peace of mind that your packages are making it to their destination. 

Type up a fun form letter for your soldiers to fill out and send back to you. All they have to do is check some boxes, fill in a few blanks, and send it on its way back to the States. Easy and quick! I borrowed this idea from Jody, one of our volunteers. And it worked for both of us. (The letter, below, is one I got back last week from my soldier, Robert.) The sillier and more humorous you make your letter, the more likely you are to get a response. The form letters are great for strangers, and they are also a great option for friends in boot camp. 

Don’t forget to include a self-addressed envelope with your form letter so your soldier doesn’t have to dig out your address and find an envelope. Notice I didn’t say self-addressed stamped envelope: You don’t need to add a stamp because deployed servicemembers can send first-class mail for free


If you send a form letter to a soldier, please send us a copy! We’d love to see other fill-in-the-blank letters in action.


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.

Click to read more ...


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.

Click to read more ...


“Free” mail means your deployed sweetie can afford to send you a letter a day!*

Pop quiz: What appears to be missing from this letter? It was sent from Iraq to the United States by one of our servicemen. 

Image of an envelope sent from Iraq to New York with 'free mail' written in the upper right hand corner. From letters from locations such as Kuwait and Afghanistan arrive in your mailbox, you may notice that the military sender has written “free mail” where the stamp is usually affixed.

The answer is a stamp. But that’s not a problem for the U.S. Postal Service or the Military Postal Service, which offer “free mail” privileges for certain warriors who are serving outside the United States. Currently, those deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, Macedonia, and Uganda are among the members of our military who can send free mail. (The U.S. Postal Service website has a complete list of military locations with free mail.) It applies to letters and postcards only; our military men and women must pay postage to send packages home.

Don’t try this trick when sending letters from the USA, however. If you want your letters to get to your overseas sweetheart, you’ll need to add stamps.

How free mail impacts your care packages. Blank stationery (paper, cards, envelopes, postcards) is an excellent addition to boxes headed overseas. One of our Adopt an MP participants even includes a few self-addressed envelopes in her boxes to make it easier for her soldier to write back. But because postage is not required for a letter’s trip back to the States, she knows it’s smart — not stingy — to skip the stamps.    

Note: The envelope shown above was sent in 2006, so it doesn’t reveal information about an active military mailing address.

*Hey, we can all dream, can’t we?