Planning on sending gifts to military personnel stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan? If they are going to "a soldier" or they're not from a specific family member or friend to a named individual, chances of delivery are somewhere between slim and none.
That's the word from the U.S. Department of Defense. According to the official statement from the U.S. Army, "There are many well meaning Web sites, TV stations, and charity groups that are promoting donations to overseas Servicemembers. While well intentioned, you should not use them. These unsolicited letters of support or care packages to Servicemembers raise a force protection issue ...."
Even writing letters addressed to "Any Servicemember" is no longer possible, according to DoD. In October 2001, the anthrax-infected letter threat resulted in the termination of two programs which have been used to increase morale of deployed troops for more than 17 years, it stated.
"Because of the potential danger to our military, the Military Postal Service Agency suspended two popular mail programs geared to service personnel stationed overseas: The ‘Dear Any Servicemember’ and ‘Operation Dear Abby’ mail program," DoD said.
"Operation Dear Abby" operated in support of troops during the holiday season from Nov. 15 through Jan. 15. "Any Servicemember" program was year round. All this changed with the war on terrorism.
"Although these programs provided an excellent means of support to friends and loved ones stationed overseas, they also proved an avenue to introduce hazardous substances or materials into the mail system from unknown sources," it said.
"Unsolicited mail, packages and donations from organizations and individuals also compete for limited airlift space used to transport supplies, war-fighting materiel and mail from family and loved ones," DoD said. "Since the termination of the official programs, many organizations, web sites and individuals have developed programs and systems which continue to support some form of 'Any Servicemember' program by using the names and addresses of individual servicemembers and unit addresses. These programs are usually supported by well-intentioned, thoughtful and patriotic groups who are simply unaware of the new risks facing deployed military forces."
Some individuals and groups publicize the names and addresses of service personnel, ships or units on Web sites with good intentions. "The result, however, is a potential danger to the troops they wish to support," according to DoD.
THEREFORE, DoD has officially asked the public not to send unsolicited mail or care packages. They will only accept items from "family members, loved ones or a personal friend."
But, there are things that can be done this holiday season to show support for deployed troops. Some of those include:
* DoD has established a "Defend America" Web site where it is possible to send emails to deployed troops.
* Operation USO Care Package is a program providing the opportunity to buy a care package which will be delivered to a deploy servicemember. These are purchased and delivered by the USO through DoD.
* Send a PX/BX gift certificate to a wounded servicemember. Anyone can purchase such certificates and request that it be donated to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. In this area there is also the possibility of making donations to servicemembers confined to Bethesda Naval Hospital as a result of wounds incurred in the war.
* Donate a Commissary Gift Certificate to a needy military family.
* Donate a calling card through Operation Uplink, a program that keeps service personnel in touch with family and loved ones through a free phone card.
* Operation Dear Abby does offer electronic greeting cards and email.
* Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the military, offers various message programs free of charge.
There are a number of organizations that provide financial and other assistance to needy servicemembers and their families. Some of these include American Red Cross, USO, Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Coast Guard Foundation, Armed Forces Retirement Home, National Military Families Association, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc., and Fisher House.
"THOSE WHO DO send mail and packages should use the service member's full name, with or without rank, unit and APO/FPO (Air/Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office) address with the nine-digit Zip code (if one is assigned) and a return address. For packages, mailers are asked to print on one side only with the recipient's address in the lower right portion," said Mark DeDomenic, assistant deputy director and chief of operations, Military Postal Service Agency.
Packages must not be mailed in boxes that have marking related to any type of hazardous material, such as bleach, alcohol, or cleaning fluids, according to DeDomenic. Parcels that have such marking or labels on the outside of the box "will not be processed. They will be handled as non-mailable matter, regardless of the contents or what is listed on the U.S. Customs form," he said.
WHILE THERE ARE SPECIFIC restrictions that pertain to each five-digit military post office zip code, it is prohibited to mail the following to the middle east, according to DoD: Obscene articles of any nature, pork or pork by-products, alcoholic beverages, and matter depicting nude or semi-nude persons, pornographic or sexual items, or unauthorized political materials.
"Although religious materials contrary to the Islamic faith are prohibited in bulk quantities, items for the personal use of the addressee are permissible," DeDomenic said.
There may be size restrictions and customs declaration form requirements for some locations. Delivery time varies depending on the category of the mail, the country of destination, and the status of the unit at the time.
Dates for mailing differ by type of shipment and destination. These can be obtained by contacting the Department of Defense or going to the Web site DODNEWS_HTML-L@DTIC.MIL. The subject is: DoD Announces Recommended Holiday Mail Dates. Middle East mailing deadlines by type of carrier are as follows: Global Express Guaranteed — Dec. 20; Global Express Mail — Dec. 17; Global Airmail Letters and Cards — Dec. 13; and Global Airmail Parcel Post — Dec. 13.