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 Military (26)

Monday
Aug012016

$10 Red Sox military tickets UPDATE

One of our most popular blog posts over the past six years is “$10 Red Sox Tickets: A offer even a Yankee fan will love.” In fact, we get many emails every baseball season asking: Is this offer still valid? The answer is YES!

My husband and I attended two games at Fenway Park this past week, and SRO tickets for active duty military (ID mandatory) were available at both. (Read our original post here.) These are a few new tips from our trip: 

Tuesday, July 26th, 7:10 p.m. game, Red Sox v. Detroit Tigers: We arrived two hours before the game to stand in the military/Will Call line at Gate B. There were about 40 people in line, and many of those people were civilians picking up pre-purchased tickets. We got two SRO tickets, below

A few things have changed since our initial post in 2010. 

  1. The window at Gate B opens 90 minutes before game time, not 2 hours before game time.
  2. There are no longer signs taped to the box office windows giving details of the military SRO tickets. You also won’t find any information about this offer on the official Red Sox website. Don’t let that stop you. The offer is real.  
  3. Be sure to get in the correct line. When we were at Fenway this week, there was a huge line of people who already had tickets waiting to get into the park through Gate B. You don’t want to be in that line. You want to be in the (usually shorter) line against the brick wall for the Gate B ticket window

 Red Sox military SRO tickets from July 2016.

Wednesday, July 26th, 1:35 p.m. game, Red Sox v. Detroit Tigers: We’d been out and about in Boston and didn’t decide to go to the game until the fourth inning. We walked up to Gate B behind another military couple, who also were buying $10 SRO tickets. There were still SRO military tickets left. Score!

My husband gave the attendant his military ID and a credit card, and she gave him back two tickets. We walked into Fenway, only to discover that the clerk had upgraded us. Instead of giving us SRO tickets, she gave us two seats in the Left Field Pavilion. Plus, she hadn’t charged our card. Awesome! This is the second time over the years that has happened to us. Here’s the deal: Every so often, ticket holders who aren’t using their seats will leave their tickets to be given — for free — to military members. You can’t ask for these tickets. It appears that it’s up to the clerks to decide who to surprise with the tickets. So be nice to whoever waits on you at Gate B! 

Monday
Jan122015

Cupid (and Operation Cookie) Needs Your Help: Will you send Valentine’s Day love to Afghanistan?

President Obama may have announced the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, but there are still thousands of service men and women deployed to that country. And they need some Valentine’s Day cheer! In past years, we’ve sent homemade cookies overseas for the Christmas holidays. This year Operation Cookie Overload is shaking things up by sending care packages for February 14th to a team of 65 U.S. Army soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan. 

Join us for all the baking fun! We’re looking for a few people to send care packages (one Priority Mail box) of homemade and/or store-bought Valentine’s cookies and candy, plus a Valentine’s Day card or two. If you’d like to simply send Valentine’s Day cards (and no sweets), you’re welcome to do that too.

Packages are taking a little less than two weeks to arrive in Kandahar (when sent using Priority Mail), so care packages should be mailed on or before February 2. 

Want to know our favorite trick for Peanut Butter Blossom cookies that travel without breaking in a military care package? Click here.

If you’re interested in participating, please email Christine at christinestrength@me.com. We’ll email you the address of the person who will be receiving and distributing the packages. As always, please be vigilant about security and don’t post the overseas address online or in other public forums. 

We’d love to share photos of your packages, so please send us pictures. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Friday
Sep282012

America the Beautiful: Catching up, cookies, and new crafts

Despite the appearance of quiet on this website recently, a lot has been going on behind the scenes, including a PCS (permanent change of station) to Washington, D.C. And the Christmas spirit is already in the air! We’ve begun to receive emails from folks who would love to participate in Operation Cookie Overload again this holiday season, so we’re on the hunt for some overseas military units who want to be on the receiving end of all our cookie bakers’ sweet treats. (To learn about Operation Cookie 2011, read this and this and this.) Stay tuned for updates. 

For some Friday fun, Jennifer Savo is sharing some more of her all-American artwork. One of her first creations was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, below, made out of license plates. (For the how-to, see “Honest! Abe Lincoln is reimagined in license plates.”) She also cut, glued, and nailed together this five-foot-wide American flag, below, also made out of license plates. (I’m lucky enough to have persuaded my sister Jennifer to give it to me.)

Most recently, Jennifer was inspired by artist Matthew Heller, who often turns song lyrics into paintings. Jennifer stenciled the lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” on a large canvas, below, to hang in her living room. It was the recessional song at her wedding, which took place four days after the 9/11 attacks. There was not a dry eye in the church. 

If you know a deployed military member who would like to receive an Operation Cookie Overload care package, please feel free to email Christine privately at christinestrength@me.com. Have a great weekend!

 

Wednesday
Feb082012

Wordless Wednesday: You know you’re shopping on a military base when the ketchup aisle looks like this ...

Location: Hanscom Air Force Base commissary in Massachusetts.

 

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 …

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.

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.

 

Sunday
Nov062011

Twice as Nice: Two clocks help military friends and family answer this question quickly: What time is it over there?

Today’s end of Daylight Savings Time throws many Americans into a clock-induced tizzy for 24 hours, as they show up an hour early to grandma’s house for Sunday dinner or the kids’ football game. But those of us with friends and family in the military often look at the clock and feel out of whack on a daily basis. Is it too early to try to Skype to Afghanistan? Is it too late to expect a phone call today from Guam? How many hours separate me from Korea? Here is a super-simple solution I use to keep myself on track, and it works terrifically whether your daughter is deployed overseas or your boyfriend is gone for six months of training on the other side of the country: Hang two clocks next to each other. Set one to your current time, and set the other to match when your loved one is. 

This was my kitchen, below, when we lived near Fort Drum, New York. I picked up these two battery-operated wall clocks at Target for about $15 each. My clock was on top, set to New York time. My husband’s deployment clock was on the bottom, set eight hours ahead to Baghdad time. It’s a little thing, but it helps make separations just a little easier to manage. 

Two is better than one when it comes to clocks. Set one to your time zone, then set the other to the time zone of your military loved one.