It is never too early to send holiday gifts to overseas military personnel

Dos and don’ts for sending those special gifts so they get there in good condition and on time.

Thinking of sending a bit of home for the holidays to someone stationed overseas in the military? Letters and packages can take as little as seven days or as many as twenty-one days to get to Iraq or Afghanistan. So word to the wise, mail early!

The United States Postal Service has free flat rate shipping boxes. The flat rate boxes can save you a great deal of money on postage.

The package must be addressed to a specific person in the military. Gone are the days of mailing items to “any service member” or “any soldier” because of the concerns for security. When mailing something to your special service member, be sure to write clearly on the outside of the package and put a complete name and address on the inside of the package just in case the address on the outside becomes unreadable. Also insert a list of what should be in the package for your soldier. Another idea is to number your letters and packages that are sent to Iraq because the letters and packages are not always delivered in the order you send them, for example package one of three.

Packages going overseas require a Customs Declaration Form. Be sure to fill out the form accurately because all mail is X-rayed. To discourage theft underestimate the value of the package. Be sure to check the box for “gift” because if “merchandise” is checked there will be duty and import taxes levied.

Another very important point is to check the size and weight restrictions for packages. The package cannot be more that 84 inches long or be more than 130 inches when the length is totaled up. This means adding up the length and the girth or width of the package. The package cannot weigh more than 70 pounds.

Michigan State University Extension recommends avoid sending perishable foods because of food safety reasons.

Ideas for food and drink include: powdered drink mixes, meal enhancers, quick protein, snacks, candy and gum. If sending powdered drink mixes, how about cocoa, instant coffee, tea, and creamer for cold weather? For hot weather, think of packing sweetened drink mixes such as lemonade and iced teas.

Meal enhancers would be ramen noodles, seasoned salt, individual packages of hot sauce, mustard, relish and ketchup. Basically meal enhancers are anything that can be mixed with the Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) to make them flavorful.

For quick protein, try energy bars, canned tuna fish, sardines, non-perishable beef jerky or beef summer sausage. The beef products must be labeled USDA beef.

DO NOT send fruit, pork, or pork by-products to service members in Iraq or Afghanistan because they are prohibited and will be confiscated.

For snacks try small rigid containers of chips, crackers, pretzels, or nuts. Small containers are easier to carry than large packages. Avoid sending bags that will burst under pressure. You do not want your service member to open a package that is a mess on the inside because a bag burst. If large containers are sent be sure to send small zipper-lock baggies so snacks can be easy to carry.

Snack cakes, cheese crackers, and cookies are always in high demand. Send salty snack to those warm weather climates to encourage the drinking of more water.

When it comes to gum and candy, avoid chocolate in warm climates because it will melt and make a mess. Since gum and other types of candy will soften and become gooey, package them in plastic zipper-lock baggies. Send plenty of gum and candy so your service member can share with the children they have contact with.

As a reminder of home send homemade goodies such as cookies and brownies in airtight containers.

Tis the season to send reminders of home for the holidays to your favorite service member overseas. Keep food safety in mind by sending nonperishable food products. Check out the specific mailing instructions at the United States Postal Service. Most important of all is to mail early so the gifts arrive on time!

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