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If you're interested in putting smiles on the faces of troops halfway around the world, read on...

My friend's husband, SFC Brandon Harding, is in Iraq on a 12-month deployment with the 49th MP Brigade, a unit of over three thousand soldiers.  SFC Harding, normally a Special Forces Combat Medic, took a temporary assignment with the Intel shop of the 49th MP BDE out of Fairfield, CA so he could spend a year at home before this current Iraq deployment with his wife & twin boys, who just turned 2.  My friend writes, "He likes his job but he wants to be the grunt out in the field fighting, NOT sitting in a FOB [forward operating base].  True soldier."

I've spent holidays deployed away from home, and it's always tough.  You say you'll "make it up later", but it's never quite the same, celebrating a year's worth of missed occasions all at once.  You string lights and wear Santa hats and try to make your unit as festive as possible, and everyone in your unit feels kind of like brothers and sisters (a big dysfunctional family!), but you can't evade the emptiness entirely.

But this is meant to be an upbeat diary.

On behalf of my friend, her husband, and the 49th MP brigade, I asked my friend's permission to share her husband's information so other people can send holiday cheer too.  SFC Harding has no idea that care packages might be arriving for him and his buddies!  I just mailed my box today, after standing in line with a couple dozen other people all carrying big boxes labeled "APO" or "FPO".  Here's the info:

SFC Brandon Harding
49th MP BDE
Camp Liberty, Iraq
APO, AE  09344

If you're interested, rest assured that SFC Harding will share everything he gets with the entire brigade.  What should you send?  Well, figure these are a bunch of ordinary guys aged mainly 18-35.  They have the basics (chow halls and PXs) but not a lot of frills.  Anything local's always nice - something they wouldn't be able to get at the PX, which just stocks the most common, big-name stuff.  Sauces, like BBQ or hot sauce, a big hit (chow hall food gets bland and boring).  Video games (any system), music, iTunes gift cards (they have internet access), or accessories for video game systems or iPods.  UnderArmour shirts for their uniforms or for working out (it's really hot and sticky in the summers).  In fact, any kind of special workout gear or Camelbaks - they spend a lot of time staying in shape.  Snacks are huge, particularly anything that's not mainstream (smaller companies, local foods, etc.).  Just remember that chocolate will melt!  And it's always great to have a hand-written card, a kid's crafts, or other touch of home.  Please, feel free to add your own suggestions or thoughts in the comments below.

For mailing, I recommend using one of the variously-sized Priority Mail boxes.  If you use the large-size one, there's a cheaper rate than normal, when you mail to APO/FPO addresses.  You'll have to fill out a customs form at the post office when you mail your package.  Cards go normal US postage rate.  Or, if what you really want to send is online, you can always have it shipped directly to the address above.

If you have an important person in your life who's deployed over the holidays, and they don't mind you sharing their name/unit, I encourage you to list them below.  I'll send anyone who's listed at least a card, and if you tell me what they like, a gift from "Santa" as well.

Update - MA Liberal made a great point will link you to hundreds of points of contact in the Middle East who are collecting mail on behalf of their buddies who don't get so much.  I encourage you to visit that site too.

Postscript: A few years back, when we were deployed over the holidays, we got a box of Christmas cards handmade by school kids.  Most were the usual mix of touching, cheesy, and adorable, but my favorite was one that on the inside read "Peace on Earth" and on the outside boasted an excellent drawing of a determined Santa Claus dressed in fatigues and hoisting an AK-47.  Gotta love kids!

Originally posted to Square Knot on Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 05:45 AM PST.

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