Generous public urged: think twice before sending unsolicited Christmas gifts to troops

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

With the Christmas countdown now underway, the MOD is reiterating its plea to the general public not to send unsolicited gifts and packages to members of the Armed Forces. Whilst undoubtedly well-intentioned, such generosity has a multitude of unintended consequences which can create disappointment and inconvenience by preventing messages from family and friends being delivered.

With just 100 days to go until Christmas Day, some generous members of the public may be considering sending presents to Armed Forces personnel serving abroad to help them celebrate the festive season.

But while everybody in the Forces is hugely grateful for the sentiment behind such gifts, the message is very clear: if people wish to show their support for those serving in austere conditions in Afghanistan, there are far more effective ways of doing so.

The volume of mail arriving at Camp Bastion for onward distribution to other locations in Afghanistan causes three key problems:

  • private mail sent to deployed personnel by their loved ones can become significantly delayed amongst all the other items from members of the public. Receipt of letters or gifts from a parent or spouse are very important for morale in theatre and for the peace of mind of families back home. The delays unsolicited mail inevitably cause to the delivery of the much more anticipated personal mail can create real disappointment and stress.
  • the onward delivery of goodwill parcels to forward operating bases necessitates additional resupply flights and convoys which places Service personnel at additional risk in what is already a difficult and dangerous operating environment. Every time an additional convoy is laid on, more troops are put at risk of enemy attack.
  • the type of items included in many welfare parcels are either already readily available in theatre or are simply not appropriate for the Afghan environment. Not only does this mean that the items go to waste, but time and resources have to be diverted from crucial operations to organise their disposal.

Today the MOD is launching a campaign to remind members of the public that they can express their support in different ways - including by donating to a special fund that the Ministry of Defence has established to enable those who want to make a personal contribution to troops’ welfare support to do so in a co-ordinated way which does not cause these problems.

Staff at Lashkar Gah dealing with unsolicited mail
Staff at Lashkar Gah dealing with unsolicited mail (library image) [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

Captain James Talman, Controlling Postal Courier Officer on Operation HERRICK, based at Camp Bastion, said:

Mail is really important to all our troops here. However, if people send out unsolicited parcels addressed to ‘any soldier’, or even to a named individual who is not known to them, they will simply clog up the system and delay the packages from friends and families which are so important.

While we all appreciate people’s support, I would ask members of the public not to send any unsolicited mail.

Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Ralph, responsible for Operational Welfare at the Ministry of Defence, added:

There is no denying that receiving a parcel can provide a morale-boost to serving personnel but what the troops on the ground really want is to receive their personal mail - the letters from loved ones and close friends.

Unfortunately, the sheer number of welfare packages we have seen enter the system in the run-up to Christmas in previous years has caused serious delays to those all-important personal items.

While we are all enormously grateful for the generosity of people who want to support the Armed Forces, packages from strangers can never make up for the delay they cause to mail from relatives.

The message is clear: if you wish to show your support for the troops, the most effective way of doing so is to support an official registered Service charity.

There are many different ways in which people in the UK can thank forces deployed overseas for their work and commitment. Helpful advice and a list of recommended Service charities which accept public donations to assist deployed personnel and their families back at home can be found on the Ministry of Defence website.

Some of these funds send welfare parcels to Afghanistan - but they do so, in consultation and partnership with the Armed Forces, in a co-ordinated way which does not put undue pressure on resources.

Although the MOD provides a comprehensive Deployed Welfare Package which includes a free mail service for families and friends, 30 minutes of telephone calls a week and internet access, there are still areas where life in an operational theatre can be improved over and above that.

With this in mind, and in order to enable members of the public to make a contribution to the welfare of personnel in an appropriate way, the MOD Operations Welfare Fund was established.

Priority for spending from the fund is set by commanders in theatre for those items which have the most impact in enhancing the morale of their personnel and any money donated to this fund enables commanding officers on the ground to bid for items which their men and women have asked for.

Examples of items purchased through the fund are Wii handsets, portable DVD players, games and table tennis tables.

Anyone wishing to make a donation can send a cheque to:

Operations Welfare Fund
J1 Operation HERRICK
PJHQ, Sandy Lane,
Northwood, Middlesex,

Another recommended charity is uk4u Thanks! which already delivers a Christmas box of practical gifts and fun treats to every soldier, sailor and airman deployed overseas - in Afghanistan and elsewhere - and those in hospital and recovery centres in time for 25 December.

Its parcels are delivered via the supply chain, meaning there is no impact on the mail network. Although the charity benefits from corporate sponsorship, it also needs donations from the public to continue its work bringing Christmas cheer to thousands of personnel. For more details visit their website at Related Links.

Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Francois, said:

This Government is dedicated to the care and welfare of the men and women of our Armed Forces, particularly those deployed on operations. This is reflected in the Deployed Welfare Package, a key part of which is the safe and timely delivery of free personal mail from family and friends.

In the past this mechanism has been used by the general public to show their support and resulted in huge volumes of unsolicited goodwill parcels being sent, which have overwhelmed the in-theatre postal and logistics capability.

Whilst unsolicited mail is well-intentioned, mail sent by families and friends is the most important to deployed personnel and is our absolute priority. Moreover, unsolicited mail strains the logistics supply and prevents mail from families getting through.

For this reason the MOD will be repeating its unsolicited mail campaign. Rather than sending their own letter or parcel, I would encourage people to make a donation to one of Britain’s excellent Service charities.

They might also consider ‘uk4u Thanks!’ - a charity that provides Christmas gifts to deployed Service personnel. Once again I would like to say thank you to the British public, on behalf of the MOD and Armed Forces, for their incredible support of our serving personnel.