Few things can truly lift a deployed troop's spirits like hearing the words, "Hey you, you got mail" before having a big ol' box plopped on their lap. It doesn't matter what's inside — just the fact that someone remembered them while they were away makes things better. Some troops are lucky enough to have family members who send out weekly boxes of momma's cookies, but even those without a constant support network get love from churches, schools, and youth groups.
In the earlier years of the Global War on Terrorism, everybody sent care packages. There was a time when you'd be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't putting something together to send abroad, whether it was for a cousin, a friend, a friend's cousin — whoever. That same war still lingers today and troops are still struck with the same homesickness.
Care packages are the classic cure to homesickness and, even today, they remain the best remedy.
Some of the older items that were frequently put in care packages for troops, like socks, bars of soaps, and candies that (hopefully) won't melt after being left in the desert sun for hours, are still appreciated today. Any time troops get sent handwritten notes and children's drawings, they'll feel obligated to write back — but things have changed since the beginning of the war.
Fewer troops are in direct combat roles and, thankfully, deployments have gotten shorter. Today, troops are less likely to be put directly in harm's way for over twelve months at a time, but they're still not home. What this means is that necessities that may have once helped forward-deployed troops remember what a shower feels like are now stockpiled in the chaplain's office.
Don't get me wrong. They will still fight each other over a box of Girl Scout Cookies.
(Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs)
Living conditions while deployed have changed a lot since 2001. Today, it's far less common to see grunts crammed in a hastily made hut. Showers are definitely more abundant and troops have access to places where they can buy their own hygiene goods. That's not to say that every single American GI is living a life of luxury, but the general level of "suckiness" has been reduced.
In short, this means that troops aren't hurting for baby wipes like they used to. They're still helpful to troops who leave the wire, but they'll more than likely just be used so a troop can skip showering for a day. What troops need now are things for the mind, not the body. Books, movies, and games help pass the time. Without electricity, troops will always pull out a deck of cards and get a game of Spades going.
Everyone learns how to play spades while deployed. Why not give your loved one a nicer deck of cards to play with?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Meredith Brown)
The leaps and bounds in technology have also changed the definition of hot-ticket care-package items. Troops no longer need to wait in long lines and hope that there's still enough time on their pre-paid card to call home. Bases have been getting better and more expansive WiFi networks through the USO, which now allows troops to simply use their smartphone to call home while off-duty.
This boost in technology also does a lot of heavylifting on the part of AAFES, the service that sells regular goods to troops. Instead of hoping that they might have a new pair of running shoes or a fresh hard-drive for storing movies in this month's package from home, they can just order stuff off Amazon.
The joys of having money and pretty much nothing to spend it on...
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by: Sgt. Frances Johnson)
Which brings us back to what troops of today actually want and need. Anything given by a family member with sentimental value is always going to hit home. As corny as it sounds, troops will still put photos of their family and loved ones up on display, just as they have since photography was invented.
Any comfy fleece blankets will be used instead of the Uncle Sam-issued sleeping systems. I've personally known troops to keep those cheapo blankets they give out on international flights and use them for twelve months instead of the issued gear.
Sweets are always going to be enjoyed and shared — especially the homemade goods. It doesn't matter if it was their own momma who made the cookies or someone else's momma, they'll be devoured.
It's kind of a taboo thing to say, but troops will always ask for it, so it's worth mentioning. If you know that the deployed troop smokes or dips, they could really use some actual stuff instead of the maybe-poisonous, maybe-just-awful tobacco products the locals sell.
Military cooks always try to shove the healthy options down our throats. What we really want is some junk food that reminds us of being back home.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson)
It might seem like ancient history to some, but troops are still deployed in the Global War on Terrorism. That war has drawn on long enough that the needs of deployed troops have changed, but homesickness (and its remedy) remains the same.