Support Our Troops through AnySoldier.com
Jan 11, 2005 (Updated Nov 14, 2008)
The Bottom Line AnySoldier.com gives the public a way to offer DIRECT support to service men and women facing hazardous duty.
Update: For security reasons, the site no longer posts the soldier's mailing address. The address has to be requested using an online form, and the contact information is emailed to the requestor. There is a limit of 2 addresses/day and 20 per month.
If you are looking for a personal way to help US troops stationed in dangerous hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq then check out AnySoldier.com.
About the Site
According to the web site, AnySoldier started in August 2003 as one family's effort to help the soldiers in one Army unit. Sgt. Brian Horn, an Army Infantry Soldier with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was stationed in Iraq when he came up with the idea of AnySoldier to help care for his soldiers. He agreed to distribute packages that came to him with "Attn: Any Soldier" in his address to soldiers who were not getting mail.
On January 1, 2004, AnySoldier.com was opened to any member of the Armed Services stationed in harm's way. Any soldier/sailor/airman/marine meeting the criteria (active-duty military with at least 4 months left in an area where he/she receives combat/hazard-duty pay) can sign up and volunteer to be a contact person. Some soldiers provide support for just a few and some support a few hundred.
Each soldier who signs up has a profile page. It contains basic information on the soldier, such as: branch of service, title, country stationed in, number of contacts and date when the soldier is expected to leave the dangerous area. The main part of the page is used by the soldier to post messages and (sometimes) photos.
The profiles are monitored by the people managing the web site. Contact information is removed 30 days before the soldier is scheduled to leave the hot zone. If it has been a long time since the soldier has been heard from, they try to contact him/her and place a notice on the soldier's profile, warning the public not to send anything until the notice has been removed.
The messages posted by the soldiers vary. Some are chatty and well-written and some are short, providing only a list of items that the soldiers need. Newcomers to the site often have more awkward postings, shyly asking for support with maybe a few suggestions of things they would like to have. More experienced soldiers tend to have more efficient postings, clearly stating what they need, what they have, what they don't have and what they DON'T need.
The postings I prefer are ones that talk about the living conditions and maybe a bit about the work the soldier does. Passionate pleas like "COFFEE please!" or "the PX is always EMPTY" often catch my eye.
Soldiers often correct their requests in later postings, finding that the public will often generously grant their wishes many times over.
What the Soldiers Need
The needs of the soldiers vary a lot from unit to unit. Some are desperate for hygiene items, others have more than enough. Some are looking for things to occupy their downtime, such as games or books. Others have lots of books and would prefer magazines or DVDs. Some crave sweets and junk food and others would rather have regular food. The needs vary by the season too. This winter hot chocolate and polar fleece blankets were in high demand by soldiers in Afghanistan. Now that it's getting warmer, soldiers are requesting Under Armor t-shirts.
There are a few items that seem to be universally popular: beef JERKY, gum, hard candies, chips, car magazines and LETTERS of support. Other items that are often requested are: good ground coffee, DVDs, ramen, EasyMac, tuna pouches, salsa, AA/AAA batteries, cigarettes, mayo, relish, hot sauce, phone cards and video games. Hot chocolate is great in the winter, and KoolAid (be sure to get the pre-sweetened version) and powdered Gatorade are good in the summer.
If you are planning on sending a care package, the best way to determine what to put in it is to look on the soldier's profile page and read through his/her postings to see what he/she needs. If you are planning on sending something that needs to be microwaved, be sure that the soldier has a microwave--not all do. If you have an extra video game to donate, be sure the soldier has the right type of machine to play it. Some have Gameboys, some Nintendos, some Playstations, etc. The WHERE TO SEND page has a search engine for finding which soldiers have requested which items. In another list, soldiers can be sorted by latest posting, branch of service or country stationed in.
It's hard for the guys to ask for things. Most wouldn't if it weren't so hard to get stuff. Some civilians I've talked to have been shocked that the military doesn't provide better for its soldiers, but the response I've gotten is "well, does your boss provide everything you need 24-7?" Soldiers, I guess, are expected to use the PX, but some camps don't have one. Other camps have a PX, but it's poorly stocked or often closed/empty. Going anywhere else is impossible.
Some units request bath wipes because they don't have enough water, so keeping clean is difficult. I read a posting from some cooks who had a DVD player, but few DVDs, so they watched the same movie again and again.
The government usually does provide, but in some cases the guys would like something a little better. I sent an old towel (in good condition) to a unit and apologized for it's bright orange color. The appreciative response I got back was "If you have EVER SEEN the brown Army Issue 'Water Repellant' towels we get issued, color is definitely not an issue."
Some guys are stuck eating MREs. They REALLY appreciate canned ravioli or instant foods that just need hot water (like ramen/cup noodle). Soldiers with microwave access appreciate quick, easy dishes like EasyMac. Other soldiers ask for instant meals because they get food that is prepared offsite, then driven several miles, continuing to cook enroute, arriving as...well... Others appreciate hearty snack items, like beef jerky or pouches of tuna, because the chow lines are so long that these solid snacks help them endure the wait--or even avoid going to the mess tent at all. And other soldiers that do get hot meals don't dare complain, but they'll still wolf down anything that didn't come from a mess hall.
Some soldiers send almost all their pay back home to support their families, keeping just the bare minimum for what they really need. They don't have money to spend on luxury items like snacks. Getting something special in the mail really helps them to feel better about themselves.
The way the parcels are passed along varies from contact to contact. Some soldiers sign up to act as spokesperson for their group--each box is shared by the whole group. Others will open the box and post it in a common area for any soldier to take what he/she needs. Still, many will pass the box, unopened, on to those soldiers who don't get a lot of mail. One contact wrote about how a soldier smiled for the first time in months when she was given a box.
A few use AnySoldier to help with pet projects, like school supplies or toys to pass on to local children. One soldier set up a Java Cafe--a place where soldiers could chill out with a cup of coffee and pleasant music. Another soldier, trying to bake as much fresh bread as she can for her fellow soldiers, needed help getting more ingredients.
One pet project in particular caught my eye. A soldier in Afghanistan began something he calls the Read to Your Kids program. Soldiers pick a children's book and are videotaped reading the book. The book and video are then sent home to the soldiers' children, grandchildren, etc. to play the video and read along in the book. It's a good way for deployed soldiers to keep in touch with family, and for young kids to see their deployed parent or grandparent regularly.
Many of the postings are interesting to read. It's definitely given me a glimpse into what life is like for these men and women. The tone varies. Most are upbeat (and it's encouraging to realize that the support received through AnySoldier has been key to keeping morale up). Many include pictures of the soldiers at work or play. I did come across one unit that was really hurting. The support they received from AnySoldier was one of the few things that helped them to hold it all together. (Fortunately, they have gone home.)
I've also seen some postings from soldiers who (even though they still have months to go in their deployment) have been so touched by all the support that they've voluntarily taken their addresses down, so that support would flow to other, less-fortunate soldiers. One such soldier, in his final posting wrote:
"You all made me feel like someone gave a damn about us when we are out here away from our loved ones in harms way."
The web site warns not to expect a reply. Many of these soldiers work long hours for several weeks in a row without a day off. Some have been overwhelmed by the huge number of letters and parcels and try to post blanket replies on their profile page. Yet, sometimes I've received replies like the following:
"If you could see the look in their eyes when we receive care packages from total strangers it would melt your heart. I do not know if I could ever put into words how much your support for all service members throughout the world means to me."
It's a really cool feeling to be able to truly help someone, to send a pair of warm gloves or a hot meal to a soldier who is cold, to remind a forgotten soldier that someone cares.
It's About Support, Not Stuff
The web site stresses that it's about supporting the soldiers, not about just sending them stuff. If you can afford to send a package, that's great, but it's not the only way to go. Support doesn't have to be expensive.
There ARE also postings from soldiers who say the food is great and they don't need any supplies, but they would love to get some letters. A letter can be mailed with a standard postal stamp--and all the soldiers, regardless of if they need supplies or don't, seem to enjoy getting mail. As one soldier put it, "it's nice to know someone cares."
However, if you have lots of money but no time, the web site offers some "Treat AnySoldier" packages that you can order and have sent to a specific soldier (if you write a letter, they will enclose it in the box too). Some other companies offer discount packages of soup or beef jerky that can be sent directly to the troops.
Some Tips--If You Are Planning on Sending a Parcel
* BEFORE sending any parcels, be sure to read through the web site pages on HOW TO SEND and WHAT TO SEND. They contain important advice.
* Also read through RESTRICTIONS. I was surprised to find that pork was prohibited (e.g. no sausages, no bacon, no pork rinds, no spam, etc.), as is material containing nude or seminude persons, etc.
* Don't send home-made baked goods. Many sergeants won't let their men eat anything from a stranger that's not factory sealed--any more than you would let your kids eat Halloween treats that aren't factory sealed.
* Try to keep the boxes under 10 lbs. It's easier on the soldiers--and on your pocketbook. Mailing a heavy box aint cheap. I think postage costs more from the west coast than from the east coast. (Flat rate boxes are a good thing to consider.)
* Put anything liquid (like body wash) in a ziploc bag, be sure it's sealed. Some boxes have arrived with their contents drenched in shampoo.
* It's also best to send hygiene products in separate boxes from food. After being together in a box (sometimes baking in the heat), a cookie can end up tasting like the shampoo it was packaged with.
* If getting a response is important to you then you may want to focus on soldiers who promise that "all mail will get a response." Be sure to include a paper with your name and address (AND EMAIL address) INSIDE the box. Sometimes enclosing a self-addressed postcard or envelope helps (you don't need to put a stamp). Most of my responses have been through email, but I'll occasionally get a letter.
* If you want a penpal, then use the search function to find one and be sure to let him/her know that you are interested in being one. Many soldiers out there would love to have someone to correspond with.
* If you are sending a phone card, be sure that it can be accessed from the soldier's camp. Some soldiers mention that they can't use phone cards from where they are stationed. The WHAT TO SEND page mentions cards that give better phone rates than others.
* Parcels need to be accompanied by a Customs form (available at the post office--usually the long, white form, but sometimes the short, green one).
(If you'd like more suggestions, feel free to send me an email.) I know some soldiers that will definitely write back and a few soldiers that could really use some support.
It's fun to try to think of things that can make a soldier feel special. A sailor stationed on land commented that it didn't feel like Spring there, so we sent her some silk flowers to add some color to her room.
Sometimes the things that the troops like are surprising. Before Christmas, I sent a group in Afghanistan a DVD of a yule log fire with Christmas music. My husband was concerned that it might make them homesick, but it turned out to be a popular DVD. The soldier wrote back that "it's kinda nice to see a fire going (and it wasn't caused by a rocket or mortar round)."
It seems that reminders of the holidays in general are appreciated. It doesn't have to be something big like Christmas. If you miss Valentine's Day, there's always St. Patrick's Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, opening day for baseball season...
However you may feel about the war or military action in general, it's important to remember that these men and women (along with servicemen stationed in safer areas) are our people and are deserving of our consideration and support.
The web site also has a page listing other groups that provide support to the military and veterans (look under "Other Efforts"). Some that caught my eye are:
Operation Quiet Comfort, which prepares care packages for the recently injured servicemen staying at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in Germany.
Operation Homefront, which provides support for the families of our deployed military and thereby gives the servicemen less to worry about.
Veterans for Veterans Connection, which provides support and information for veterans.