Don’t Send These 8 Things in OCONUS Care Packages

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Your service member is overseas and you want to feel connected via care packages. It’s so tempting to send all the things they love in a box to brighten their day. But before you go crazy buying, boxing and shipping their faves, hit pause to learn about the things you 100% should not send in overseas care packages.

Like, ever.


Risque pics

Okay, so you’ve been apart for months at a time and you’d like your beloved to remember what you look like, intimately.

If you know what I mean.

And so you paid the money (or got a very close friend) to snap some boudoir or sexy photos. They’ve been printed or stored digitally–all ready to send in your next care package.

Except… do you know that your care packages may be subject to random searches?

True story. I did the boudoir photoshoot way back in 2010, pre-kids. Luckily, before I send anything to my spouse, I sent him an email to triple check that it was cool. He responded with a hard pass.

People try to slip all sorts of illicit or straight up illegal items into care packages for troops deployed or stationed OCONUS. Which means that there are often random security control checks made. At these they open letters and packages to, you know, check for stuff.

And while nudes are not necessarily illegal, do you want someone who is not your partner looking at you in all your glory? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Shine, wine, and liquor of any kind

Fun fact: shipping alcohol through the mail is actually legitimately illegal. Like go to jail or at least pay a hefty fine illegal.

Still, some kind folks have found sneaky ways slip booze past the security checks. I’m sure we’ve all heard about pouring vodka into a mouthwash bottle and dyeing light blue.

Bonus fact: booze is actually illegal in some of the places where troops are deployed. Many Muslim countries have laws against certain foods and beverages, including alcohol.

Drinking while in a combat zone might not be the best idea. You know, weapons, incoming fire, needing to react quickly and all of that. Booze won’t help your soldier react quickly or effectively.

Finally, what happens if that blue vodka isn’t tightly secured and it spills all over all of the other stuff in the box?

Slim Jims, jerky, and pork are off-limits… sometimes

Does your loved one love some jerky or cured meat products? Yeah, mine, too. However, we learned really quickly that not all jerky can be shipped to certain places. This mostly applied to troops deployed to or stationed in Muslim countries, like Afghanistan. Pork is a no-no for practicing Muslims.

The trickle-down effect is that it is also off limits for troops, too. Stick to beef or turkey jerky instead.

Skip the perishable, melty treats

My spouse adores Reese’s cups. You know what he missed for the year he was in Afghanistan? Reese’s cups. Because I refused to send those ooey-gooey chocolate treats to him. They will melt and your box will be disgusting and/or moldy. Everything will be ruined.

Lesson learned: stick to the shelf-stable items they love equally. Like Oreos and Pop Tarts or granola bars and Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Those things will last through the end of the world. (Here’s a huge list of swaps for foods that can melt. And here’s a complete guide on how to send food in the mail safely.

Things that shatter

As I’ve learned in many years of mailing care packages around the world, the post office is not gentle with your boxes. Nope, those suckers are tossed around. And when those things are transferred to the military side of USPS? Gentle might not be in their vocabulary.

That’s okay though. You just need to learn to pack smarter.

If you absolutely must send something breakable, so be it. Wrap it really, really, really (you get the idea) well in a forgiving cushioning material. I like to use socks. That way it’s two fun presents in one! (Here’s a bunch of packaging ideas.)

Then I wrap the item wrapped in socks inside of newspaper. All of that gets tucked into a grocery bag, which is tied. Finally, it all goes into a gallon sized Ziploc baggie. Because you can never be too careful with breakables!

Other than that, skip the glass ornaments and tchotchkes. Assume they will be shattered upon arrival.

Anything liquid or gooey

We’ve covered sticky, melty food items already. However, you might not consider all the issues caused by non-food liquid or oozy things. Like body wash, liquid soap, drinks, cologne. You know what’s awful? A whole USPS shipment that smells like Axe manly-man because someone’s care package item exploded in transit.

Do not inflict this scent on everyone.

Again, sometimes shipping liquid-y things cannot be helped. If you must ship that item and it cannot wait, triple Ziploc bag that bad boy. Trust me, one bag won’t always contain the mess.

Under pressure? Don’t send!

For the duration of the deployment, try to avoid things that are pressurized in care packages. Think about: bug spray, sun screen, some kinds of shaving cream, energy drinks, and body spray. Sometimes these items don’t do well in unpressurized airplane cargo holds, in widely variable temperatures or when roughly handled. They can, in short, explode. We don’t want that.

Something pricey?

Yes, tech is part of our lives and you might want someone special to have a new whatever device while deployed. But also things can go “missing.” Unless it’s insured, tracked, strategically wrapped and 100% absolutely necessary, skip these things. I mean it. You could be out a lot of money and dealing with a lot of heartbreak should your high value item disappear in transit.

Looking For More Care Package Ideas? Try These:

Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!

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