Supporting Our Troops FAQs  
Answers to common questions about supporting our troops.
Whether you want to send mail to our troops or lend your support in other ways, you may want to read through these questions and answers.
 
Q. How does the Postal Service process Military Mail?
Q. Can I mail free to a person in the military?
Q. Are there postage discounts for mailing overseas to military service personnel?
Q. How long does military mail take to arrive?
Q. I’d like to send a card to servicemen. Can I just send one to anybody?
Q. How then can I show my support to servicemembers overseas?
Q. I would like to send a package of donated items to a particular platoon. Can I do that?
Q. What is the proper way to address a letter or package to ensure it will get there?
Q. Are there restrictions on packaged items I can send to a family member?
Q. Does that mean I can’t mail a Bible?
Q. Are there size restrictions on a package I may wish to send?
Q. What about packing tips?
Q. Will my letter or package be opened for inspection?
Q. I’ve heard of a program called “Operation Shoebox.” Is it legitimate?
 
Q. How does the Postal Service process Military Mail?
A. Military mail postage rates are the same as domestic rates. A 37-cent First-Class stamp will also deliver a letter to a U.S. military service member located halfway around the world.

The Postal Service processes APO (Air/Army Post Office) and FPO (Fleet Post Office) mail similar to domestic mail, with all military addresses, regardless of where they may be located around the globe, being assigned a ZIP Code, referred to as an APO or FPO number.

The Postal Service places APO/FPO mail on international commercial passenger service and international cargo service aircraft from various cities. When the plane lands overseas, the mail is tendered to the Military. The mail is then handled by Military Postal Service representative and transported to the military post office for distribution to the service member’s unit for delivery to the addressee.
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Q. Can I mail free to a person in the military?
A. No. The free mailing privilege only applies to military service personnel and designated civilians in specially designated areas with limited postal support. In other words, it is only free for those deployed personnel in designated overseas locations identified by The Department of Defense(DoD). This program is not for their loved ones, family, or friends back home.
Q. Are there postage discounts for mailing overseas to military service personnel?
A. Regular domestic postage rates apply for mailing overseas. There are no discounts for mailing from the U.S. to overseas APO and FPO addresses.
Q. How long does military mail take to arrive?
A. The time varies, but typically military mail letters are delivered between seven and 10 days depending on country of destination. Priority parcels will take 10 to 15 days. Parcel Post takes about 24 days, according to MPSA (Military Postal Service Agency) officials.

Transit times will vary depending on operational conditions and the unit of the addressee. Those in established bases should continue to receive regular service, while those in forward areas or engaged in operations may experience longer arrival times due to logistical constraints. During Desert Storm we equated this with the military postal system having to forward mail to a population rivaling that of the city of Richmond, VA that was moving through an area the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river.
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Q. I’d like to send a card to servicemen. Can I just send one to anybody?
A. Only if you have the name and address. Programs that allowed people to send mail to servicemembers unknown to them were discontinued following the terrorist attacks of 2001. Mail addressed as “Any Service Member,” “Any Soldier, Sailor, etc.” will not be accepted. If this mail is deposited into a collection box it will be returned to sender. Items without return addresses are opened in our Mail Recovery Center Network to determine the sender’s address. If it is impossible to determine the sender’s address, we donate care items to local charities.
Q. How then can I show my support to servicemembers overseas?
A. The Department of Defense (DoD) recommends programs that support military service member’s families at home. If you would still like to donate to deployed servicemembers, the DoD recommends visiting the Defend America Home Page for a listing of support organizations.
Q. I would like to send a package of donated items to a particular platoon. Can I do that?
A. The DoD has become aware of organizations and individuals who solicit donations or money for care packages and use unit addresses and/or a list of servicemember names to send the packages to deployed forces. These programs are usually supported by well-intentioned and patriotic people who are simply unaware of the new risks facing deployed military forces. Some individuals and groups have even publicized the names and addresses of servicemembers, ships or units on Web sites, without realizing that personal information may be used inappropriately. Visit the Defend America Home Page and click on “Support our Troops” to find DoD recommended ways to show your support.
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Q. What is the proper way to address a letter or package to ensure it will get there?
A. The DoD has requested that those who send mail use the servicemember’s full name (with or without grade, rank, or rating), or a specific title (e.g., Commanding Officer, Supply Officer, etc.). Also required is the unit designation and APO/FPO (Air/Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office) address with the nine-digit ZIP Code (if one is assigned) and a return address. For packages, mailers are asked to print on one side only with the recipient’s address in the lower right portion. Do not include the country or the base camp’s city, as it might be routed through the host country’s mail system.
Q. Are there restrictions on packaged items I can send to a family member?
A. Each country has customs regulations that apply to all incoming mail. These may include prohibitions on certain kinds of food or entertainment products. While there are specific restrictions for each five-digit military post office ZIP Code (APO/FPO), generally speaking, it is prohibited to mail the following to this region:

obscene articles (prints, paintings, cards, films, videotapes, etc.)

any matter depicting nude or seminude persons, pornographic or sexual items, or non-authorized political materials

bulk quantities of religious materials contrary to the Islamic faith. Items for the personal use of the addressee are permissible

pork or pork by-products

For specific restrictions to an APO/FPO address, please visit the Overseas Military Mail page. You can also call 1-800-ASK-USPS or consult your local post office. The Military Postal Service Agency’s toll free number 1-800-810-6098, is available Monday-Friday, 7:30 am – 4:30 p.m.
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Q. Does that mean I can’t mail a Bible?
A. The intent of this customs prohibition was the host country's concern about distributing these materials to its citizens. Mailing a Bible or other individual religious item as long as it is solely for the personal use of the service member should not be an issue.
Q. Are there size restrictions on a package I may wish to send?
A. At times, some military units may have additional restrictions imposed by the unit commanders, such as those on size and weight, to ensure logistics support can handle the mail along with other necessities. The maximum length of a package in any category is 72 inches. In addition, Military ZIP Code restrictions may change as military units move to different locations. All applicable restrictions for about 3,000 overseas military ZIP Codes are entered into the U.S. Postal Service computer terminals and published in the Postal Bulletin.
Q. What about packing tips?
A. It’s a good idea to keep the following in mind to ensure that packages are delivered promptly.

Extreme Temperatures: Desert temperatures typically exceed 100 degrees.

The Box: Select a box strong enough to protect the contents and large enough to accommodate cushioning. If reusing a box, cover all previous labels and markings with a heavy black marker or adhesive labels.

Cushioning: Cushioning the contents with newspaper is a novel way to send news from home. Styrofoam and bubble wrap are also good choices. Close and shake the box. If it rattles, add additional cushioning to keep items from shifting.

Batteries: Occasionally a battery powered item such as a radio or electric razor will turn itself on during shipment. Be sure to remove and wrap the batteries separately.

Sealing: Tape the opening of the box and reinforce all seams with 2” wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape. Do not use cord, string or twine as it causes the package to get caught and possibly damaged in sorting equipment.

Include a card describing the contents: Occasionally improperly wrapped packages fall apart during shipment. Including a card inside the package that lists the sender’s and recipient’s addresses along with a description of the contents helps in collecting items that have fallen open during processing.
Q. Will my letter or package be opened for inspection?
A. Letter mail is not being opened unless it appears unusually bulky, military officials said, in which case it may be examined to see if it contains contraband, such as drugs. Parcel mail is being examined on a spot-check basis to determine conformity with host country customs regulations and for terrorist-type mailings.
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Q. I’ve heard of a program called “Operation Shoebox.” Is it legitimate?
A. Operation Shoebox is a privately run program that accepts donations and supplies to our troops engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As with all unsolicited donation or mailing programs, the DoD does not endorse or support this initiative, and urges helpful Americans to visit the Defend America Home Page for a list of officially approved methods that they participate in to best support our troops.