Gifts for U.S. Soldiers

I just heard from my brother in Afghanistan, where he’s an Army National Guard sergeant in artillery. You’d think he would want gifts like CDs or video games — no. He asked for three things: Big Red (the drink, not the gum), pencils, and individually-wrapped candy.

Why? Well, the Big Red is something those of us from a Certain Region of the Country will jones for badly if we’re cut off from the supply. But the other two things were for the kids near where he’s stationed.

Pencils and candy, he says, are like gold to the kids. And one of the favorite things for soldiers to do out there is make the kids happy. It brings them a little bit of home, whether they’re fathers or big brothers or just remember the neighborhood kids. But they also just love to see these kids smile.

With this in mind, I came up with my own short list of things we can send our soldiers — and a few things never to send them.

1. Retired Beanie Babies and other small stuffed animals. If you have clean, fluffy stuffed animals or dolls just taking up space, toss them all in a box, put in a couple of mothballs, and ship them to your deployed friend. You have never seen need til you’ve seen the kids in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places our soldiers are boots-on-the-ground; your old, unwanted toys will be cherished treasures for many of these kids.

2. Wooden pencils with hard, durable lead, plastic pencil sharpeners, and other small drawing and school supplies. Just cheap stuff from a dollar store is fine. Do make sure that it’s not all girly or boyish. Also, never send anything with a religious theme, and try not to send anything that has English writing on it. This isn’t always an option, but big splashy pictures will make up for a lot.

3. Hard candies – but no chocolate or chewing gum. Even the cheapest hard, individually-wrapped candies will delight the children these guys see every day. Never send anything that might melt, and avoid candies that might draw insects. 

4. Keep it cheap, but — electronic solar-powered calculators and other similar items. You don’t want to spend too much, or another child or an adult is likely to take it away. But can you imagine what a child who has nothing could do with a calculator? Again, don’t send anything with
English on it — math and mathematical symbols are fine.

5. Always, always, for the soldiers themselves, phone cards are the most cherished of gifts. You can contact the American Red Cross for the best way to get those phone cards to our soldiers; they know what kind to purchase and often can get them there for free.

The three things to never, ever send our soldiers in the Middle East include:

1. Anything pornographic in any way — and that includes anything that would have been considered racy in World War II. These items are often confiscated on arrival anyway. Due to treaties we have with allied and neutral nations in the Middle East, all pornography is against the rules for our deployed military. Imagination will have to suffice, I’m afraid.

2. Anything alcoholic. Again, we have treaties that prohibit alcohol from being distributed to our troops in any way.

3. Chocolate. This isn’t because it’s illegal; it’s because chocolate will melt in transit and draw bugs. It does you no good to send perishable candies to our troops, anyway. Stick with the salt-water taffy and Dum-Dum pops.