The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that active-duty troops deployed to the US-Mexico border will stay there through the holidays. Originally slated to return home on December 15, troops will now remain at their assignment through at least January 31, 2019.
These are not the only troops who will be away from home for the holidays — some 14,000 service members are currently deployed to Afghanistan, and many more are in Syria to fight ISIS militants, as well as on missions around the globe.
While nothing can compare to spending time with loved ones over the holidays, there are a few ways to make the holiday away from home a little easier to bear.
One of the best ways to help support deployed troops is to send a care package — a box packed with items from home that are difficult to acquire overseas.
What to send
Think of anything you use or love that gets you through the day — odds are troops need those things too, and commodities can be difficult to acquire overseas.
Non-perishable food and snacks are always a welcome surprise. Items like peanut butter, jerky, trail mix, nuts and dried fruit are perfect for mailing overseas. Consider powdered drink mixes that can be mixed with water, condiments that can be added to MREs, and individually packed protein snacks.
Try to avoid items that will likely melt or stick together, and if you think something will spill or get messy during the journey — things like chocolate, gum and gummy candy — wrap it in a plastic bag so it won't ruin everything else.
The plastic bag trick also works with toiletries, something troops definitely enjoy. From baby wipes to hair products, the right item in the hands of the right service member can boost morale tremendously. Be careful sending wipes to ships, though — they clog the ship's plumbing system (and nobody wants to know what it takes for the sailors to make that repair).
Unless you know the individual to whom you will be sending the package, try to send unscented items. Lotion, sunscreen, deodorant, mouthwash and hand sanitizer are good items to send. Shaving supplies are also recommended, with a preference for unscented items that can be used by any gender.
Tobacco products. Many service members use tobacco products, and even if they don't, they can trade dip or cigarettes for other stuff. Just make sure any products are sealed. Do not send alcohol or drugs. Just don't.
Books and magazines are a hit or miss, so make sure any reading materials are clean, popular items. Nobody wants to read Dianetics, no matter what L. Ron Hubbard's service record looks like.
Cards and letters have tremendous sentimental value, especially drawings from children, which can also at times provide comic relief. This is a great way to let our troops know that real people at home are thinking of them, especially during the holidays.
How to send
Regular rules apply for USPS restricted items. No aerosols, liquids, weapons or animal or plant products. Those are just a few examples, so make sure to check out this link for the postal service's guidelines.
The link above also gives details on how to address packages. Take special care not to include any reference to foreign cities or countries on the package and leave out "United States" or any variation thereof. This may result in your package entering an international mailing system, which will subject it and you to extra costs and conditions.
Mail can not be addressed "any soldier" or variations thereof. Packages must be addressed to a specific person or job title, such as "Commanding Officer" or "Sgt. John P. Doe." The second line should identify the individual's unit or PSC, and the FPO/APO and AA/AE/AP designations will fall on the city/state/zip code line. This link shows several examples.
Organizations that can help
If you don't know anyone in the military but still want to send a package, there are a number of organizations that can help you to help the troops.
If you live near a military or national guard installation, you may be able to provide support to one of its deployed units. The best way to be sure is to contact the public affairs office for your local base.
The USO offers several choices of gifts for purchase, including food packages, deployment kits and books they will ship to overseas bases. You can also submit a form requesting a care package that they will ship to service members. Through December 31, 2018, Johnson and Johnson is matching donations to the USO dollar-for-dollar.
Operation Support Our Troops - America is a four-star charity that can also help send items to a service member overseas. Through their website, you can add a name to their mailing list or donate.
Soldiers' Angels is another highly rated charity that offers several options. Check out their website for details.
These and other organizations are perfect for those who may not know a service member or unit's address, as they typically take care of the packing and mailing processes themselves.
If you elect to donate or send packages, or otherwise support a charity keep in mind there have been numerous reports of fraudulent organizations. Those listed above both have four-star ratings from watchdog Charity Navigator.
Military.com also compiled a list of helpful — and vetted — organizations.