OK, Kae, Boy on Bike and Nilk have dobbed me in to write a guest post about receiving packages whilst deployed. I will caveat this from the outset by saying I haven’t been to Afghanistan. Each deployment is different, and the availability of various items differs depending on the welfare package for each operation. Boy on a Bike sent me a couple of parcels whilst I was deployed recently, so I’ll try and approach this from my own experience and temper it with what I know from other deployments I’ve done and what I know about Afghanistan from mates who have been there.Read Mr Sharpe's blog here.
Mail sent through the Armed Forces Post Office (AFPO) differs from normal international mail. For small operations, it goes through the usual postal arrangements to the host nation for distribution, usually through a small National Support Element (NSE) who are given what amounts to a “Soldier’s five” on mail before being thrown in the deep end to administer it. On larger operations, the ADF will deploy a uniformed postie. The mail will usually be transported by service aircraft to the postie in-theatre, and will be distributed through the logistic chain from there. What this means for the sender of care packages to “An Australian Soldier” is that it is entirely reliant on both the postie and the chain of command as to who actually receives the package. I have never seen it happen with privately sent packages, but I can speak for what has happened to packages from RSLs and other such organisations. Priority tends to go to those who have been there the longest, and then to those who have either done particularly well of late or who are not getting much in the way of mail. Welfare of subordinates is viewed as a function of leadership, so these things tend to be pushed down the chain of command as far as possible. However they work it out, some deserving digger will end up with your parcel.
What to pack:
In most theatres, welfare facilities have been established in an attempt to lessen the burden of operational service. On Australian-led operations (think Timor, Solomons etc), that facility is run by the ADF. On larger coalition operations, it often ends up being run by the UK, or more often, the US. That means that even in Oruzgan Province, a digger can get his hands on a cold soft-drink and a bag of chips or a chocolate bar. Unfortunately, that chocolate bar is likely to be made by Hershey’s. What you really miss whilst deployed is all things Australian. 39 Personnel Support Battalion, based in Sydney and responsible for the welfare of deployed troops, put together care packages quite regularly. They usually include magazines newspapers and DVDs of popular TV series and sporting fixtures. They do a great job, and I can’t thank them enough for the support they provided while I was away, but they don’t cover everything.
Vegemite, Kraft Peanut Butter, Allen’s lollies, Twisties, Minties, Nobby’s nuts, and Milo are all good things to throw in a package. Good tea and coffee from home are also very welcome. Alcohol is against the rules, so don’t get tempted to decant some Bundaberg rum into a Lipton’s Iced Tea bottle so that from casual inspection the contents look legitimate. It is against the rules, and Australian soldiers are nothing if not sticklers for the rules.
Don’t get too caught up in feeding the soldiers though. Magazines and newspapers from home are always highly prized. When selecting magazines, remember that the bulk of the force is male and in their 20s. Pornography is not a good idea, but magazines like FHM and Ralph are usually OK. Sporting magazines are also sought after, but remember that the ADF represents the Australian population in microcosm, so a mix of League, AFL and Rugby (even Soccer if you are so minded) is necessary, as well as Cricket etc.
Another great idea for a package-filler is Australiana – the sort of things you can pick up at the $2 shop. Anything with an Australian flag, Koalas, Kangaroos or Wombats etc on it is great. I had an Australian flag hanging in my office and on my accommodation, and had a Wallabies flag in our multi-national recreation area. Having little Aussie stick-pins, stubbie coolers, pens, or those little clip-on Koalas on hand to give to soldiers from other countries is great for our image overseas. People remember that kind of thing and will often reciprocate. I came hope with pins, patches, badges, even bits of uniform from all over the world because I made a habit of carrying little bits of kitschy Australiana to give away.
Every soldier is different. Every operation is different. Don’t get too caught up in the idea of creating the “perfect package”. When it gets to the other end, the thing that the recipient will remember long after they have eaten, read, or given away everything that was in it, is that someone from home cared enough to send it in the first place.