When I first decided to adopt a soldier I had no idea how to go about it, so of course I did what I always do…research!
Now that I have a lot of experience I thought that it would be helpful to create a Guide to Supporting a Troop.
You can do something to support a member of the armed forces no matter how much money or time you have. From sending a card, writing a letter, sending a care package, donating $1 or more, all the way up to adopting a deployed service member and committing to sending them care packages and letters every month. You can even sign up just to write letters, or get an email friend.
Let’s start with the very least you can do: donate money.
There are lots of military charities out there, but how do you know which ones are trustworthy and which ones will do what you want them to do? Well here’s where I donate money when I have it.
1. Magazines for Troops: This organization is a Mom and Pop shop run by a couple who gets magazines to deployed troops. You can submit the information of your service member and they send a big box of all kinds of magazines to them. They’ve done this for all my adopted service members and it’s been such a wonderful treat for them. There is no charge for this, but they ask for donations to help defray shipping costs because it’s $13.95 for every box they send. I try to send them money whenever I can to help contribute towards the shipping they’ve paid for my guys at the very least. A very worthy cause and you can contribute any amount.
2. Homes for Our Troops: This is a very highly rated charity who builds free specially adapted homes for disabled veterans who have just returned from combat. They also have a store whose profits go towards the charity. I bought this year’s Christmas Ornament from there, stickers for my car and try to pitch a few buck their way whenever I can.
3. The USO: The USO is known worldwide for providing comfort to deployed and traveling troops and their families. I know this firsthand as my soldiers have Skyped and chatted with me from USO’s where they’ve gotten Internet Access and a place to sleep while deployed. They also have on base centers where many of my soldiers are deployed with Facebook pages and I love being able to keep track of what’s happening locally. So I donate to them and help them when they are fundraising.
4. The SemperFi Fund: This is the highest rated Military Charity bar none according to Charity Navigator and they provide immediate financial relief in the wake of catastrophic injury.
5. The Battle Buddy Foundation: An organization that focuses on PTSD and Service Dogs for those that have it. This is a passion of mine and I particularly like the way they are using technology and their Facebook to share stories.
When I first decided to send care packages, at first I couldn’t find a way to adopt a soldier. I found other things though. I found a way to send cards to injured Marines who were recovering and just needed cheering up. So that was one of the very first things I did. It’s not hard to send a get well card.
Next I found a place where you could send a single package to Any Soldier. This was an especially great organization because it focused on Soldiers and Marines who don’t often get care packages. You go to the site, go to this page and read the rules, then go to this page and pick your contact. Every unit who has signed up has a representative who receives care packages sent to the address you pick, and then distributes what you send to the soldiers who need it most. This way you have no commitment to a specific soldier. Some of the representatives post pictures of the unit so you can see a little bit about them and get updates.
Next I found Adopt A Hero where I adopted a Marine. I inundated him with letters, cards and care packages after looking him up on Facebook. I also used something called MotoMail which you can only use to send stuff to Marines and some Navy people. It basically sends an email to a post near where your Marine is, prints it and then hand delivers it. This is useful if your Marine is far away from a main Forward Operating Base or FOB for short. The Marine I adopted through this program is in a primitive area and has only sent me one email. It can be hard to maintain your excitement when you are reaching out to someone, writing letters, sending treats and things and getting no feedback but this can actually be the norm. You may never hear back. They are in combat situations, they don’t have time to write letters to strangers. If you do this, remember you are not doing it for you, you are doing it for them.
I wanted to write more letters and I had heard about Soldier’s Angels so I went to their site. In order to get on their Letter Writing Team I read that you have to sign up and adopt at least one soldier through their program. They have a $5 sign up fee to qualify you and make sure you are a real person. I signed up, adopted a soldier and also got on the letter writing team. My soldier was from Mississippi which is near me so I was excited. I did a search on his name and even found a mention of him at a deployment picnic the town threw for his unit and then found his Facebook page and looked at anything I could see publicly as a way of sparking ideas on how to write my introductory letter.
What I’ve discovered is that Soldier’s Angels doesn’t explain the process of adoption to the soldiers so I usually do that myself now. The first thing a soldier will receive once he signs up are letters from the letter writing team. Eventually he will be adopted by his own personal angel but it might take a little time because there is a waiting list… as I write this 187 Heroes are awaiting adoption. When I joined it was almost 400. So, eventually they get adopted and their personal angel will contact them. I also include this information when I send a letter on my Letter Writing Team assignments now. But when I adopted my first soldier, I didn’t know this. When my current soldiers come home and I get a new one, I will be sure to explain it all to them up front. As an angel my job is to send one package a month and a letter a week to my official adopted soldier. With my current adoptee, I send a package a month, but we talk almost every day on Facebook or Skype and I also send cards and include a letter or card in his packages. Sometimes I send him little extra stuff too if he mentions something… like his feet are really cold, then I find some extra warm socks for extreme weather because Afghanistan and Mississippi are very different.
When you send a package you can include all kinds of things. I like to include specific items the person likes of course. I wheedle that information out of them. There are tons of lists out there to start you out, just search “care package advice.” But mine is this… start with the basics. The first package you will probably have to send blind. So send a box of assorted candy bars, assorted snack size chips, protein bars or powder, tuna packets, gourmet beef jerky and some basic toiletries. Only send high quality toiletries. No hotel minis. Gillette Fusion Razors and shaving gel, deodorant without a strong cologne, small shower gels, chapstick, mini vaseline, new toothbrush. Things like that. Don’t send home baked stuff, don’t send too much junk food.
Since Priority Mail service supplies are the packaging of choice for families preparing care packages for service members overseas, the Postal Service created a “Mili-kit” based on the items most frequently requested by military families.
The kit contains: Two Priority Mail APO/FPO Flat Rate Boxes. Two Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes. Priority Mail tape. Priority Mail address labels. Appropriate customs forms. To order the kit, call 800-610-8734. It will come free to your house. Once you pack it up take it to the post office. Sending the full package costs $13.95
Instructions for filling out the customs forms are attached to the form itself. You can’t send pornography, liquor or anything under pressure or flammable.
Once I was a member of Soldier’s Angels and writing letters, I also found out about their ePal program where you could have an email friend. So I signed up for that. My ePal became such a close friend. He had a baby while he was deployed around the same time my grandson was born. We had great long conversations via email and then on Facebook chat. I enjoyed hearing about his family and his future plans and brainstorming with him. I sent him books and care packages too, even though it wasn’t a requirement, but because I cared about him and wanted him to have what he needed. He sent me things too. I know that I will very likely meet both my adopted soldier and my ePal when they come home.
The Letter Writing team has also been amazing. I signed up to send out 6 letters a week and got 2 names 3 days a week. For a long time I got no replies, but eventually I got one. Then another and another. Most replied via Facebook or email and I always included instructions on how to do that. Now I have several Facebook friends who are deployed who I met through the letter writing team. 2 of them I have become special friends with. I send them treats and talk to them almost every day on Facebook and sometimes on Skype.
During the holidays I went down to 2 letters a week, you can adjust the number of letters you send according to how much time you have to give.
I think I enjoy shopping for care packages and sending them off the most, and getting to Skype my soldiers and see them enjoying the things I’ve sent makes me very happy. At Christmas I did send some homemade candy that kept very well and was a big hit. I really loved watching one of my adopted soldiers eat one.
So you can do all kinds of things to support a troop. From the smallest amount of time, to a way of life, like me. If you ever have questions or know a soldier or Marine who wants to be adopted or needs help, just email me at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to jump in.
I have to caveat my endorsement of Soldier’s Angels because they have terminated my membership simply because I created this page and shared my experiences in hopes of encouraging more people to join their organization and adopt. Apparently the founder mistakenly believed I was attempting to set up a competing organization and didn’t bother to read or understand the purpose of the page and simply had me terminated. Because of this kind of thing, along with their failure to communicate effectively with the soldier’s enrolled, I’d say their biggest weakness if this lack of communication. I still think they are a great organization and they have access to so many deployed soldier’s and provide support for new people that they are worthwhile. I am disappointed that they have treated an advocate of their’s so poorly.
I will be exploring additional options going forward and will add to the list as I review them.
You can Like my Angel for Soldiers page on Facebook if you want to get the latest tips on supporting troops at home and abroad.