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What’s in the box? Most care packages contain snacks, candy and hygiene items. But occasionally, they carry stranger fare. First Lt. Nicole Spears, 26, of Shreveport, La., examines a box as she picks up mail for her unit Thursday at Camp Victory.
What’s in the box? Most care packages contain snacks, candy and hygiene items. But occasionally, they carry stranger fare. First Lt. Nicole Spears, 26, of Shreveport, La., examines a box as she picks up mail for her unit Thursday at Camp Victory. (Anita Powell / S&S)
What’s in the box? Most care packages contain snacks, candy and hygiene items. But occasionally, they carry stranger fare. First Lt. Nicole Spears, 26, of Shreveport, La., examines a box as she picks up mail for her unit Thursday at Camp Victory.
What’s in the box? Most care packages contain snacks, candy and hygiene items. But occasionally, they carry stranger fare. First Lt. Nicole Spears, 26, of Shreveport, La., examines a box as she picks up mail for her unit Thursday at Camp Victory. (Anita Powell / S&S)
A typical selection of care-package loot at an MWR facility at Camp Victory, Iraq.
A typical selection of care-package loot at an MWR facility at Camp Victory, Iraq. (Anita Powell / S&S)

BAGHDAD — A fish tank. Racy underwear. A rock. Curdled milk. Tens of thousands of toothbrushes. Wine goblets.

Care packages from home are a part of life for servicemembers deployed to Iraq. Most of the time, the contents are pretty pedestrian: hygiene products, snacks, candy, the occasional card or letter of encouragement.

But apparently, some Americans have very unusual ways of saying “I care.”

Like the well-meaning veteran who sent Air Force Lt. Col. LaTanya Wilson his rejected book manuscript.

“He said no one else would read it,” she said. “It was his story of Vietnam. He sent me all his rejection letters, too.”

Or, the anonymous person who thought it a good idea to mail a Baghdad-area soldier a dozen wine goblets. The goblets sat untouched in a bathroom for over a year until Navy Cmdr. Troy Brunhart got rid of them recently.

When asked why someone would mail wineglasses to alcohol-free Iraq, he shrugged.

“I could not even speculate as to why,” he said, adding that for the most part, his care packages contain useful and much-appreciated items.

Camp Victory’s busiest postal facility takes in about 25,000 pounds of mail each day, said postal supervisor Staff Sgt. John Williams, 30, of Allentown, Pa. He estimated that about a quarter of packages are care packages.

When asked about the strangest care-package item he’d ever seen, he grimaced.

“Spoiled milk,” he said. “Somebody sent regular milk through the mail. I think it was three or four weeks (old). It was nasty. I don’t know what that person was thinking.”

Worse, he said, the milk had leaked, blurring the recipient’s name and address, so he had no one to give it to.

The second-strangest thing, he said, was a fish tank.

“I don’t know what they were going to do with that,” he said.

When asked about the racier items, he shrugged.

“There’s a lot of lingerie,” he said. “I don’t understand that one.”

But sometimes, those odd items can be the most precious.

Spc. Curt Garrison, 25, of Lafayette, Ind., recently opened a care package from his 15-year-old sister to find a rock.

“It was just a purple rock,” he said, explaining that it was something she found on the ground. “My sister sent it to me because she thought it was pretty. It’s on my dresser. I just kept it because she sent it to me.”

His friend Spc. Brandon Stubbs, 25, of Bennettsville, S.C., recently opened a box to find his high-school self staring back up at him: A friend had mailed him his senior-year portrait.

“I had glasses and I look like a dork,” he said with a smile.

The weirdest item he’s seen?

“Underwear,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of people get underwear.”

The reason he finds this funny, he explained, is that he and many of his fellow soldiers don’t wear the stuff.

Some care-package senders seem to envision Iraq as a place facing a severe shortage of toothbrushes and toothpaste, shaving cream and wet wipes — all of which can be purchased at even the most basic post exchange, though quantities and variety often are limited.

Pfc. Victoria Grijalva, 21, of Tucson, Ariz., got a shock recently when a toothbrush company mailed her more toothbrushes than she will likely use in her lifetime: 50 boxes, with 1,000 toothbrushes per box.

“The toothbrush thing freaked me out,” she said. “That’s 50,000 toothbrushes. It’s crazy. We ended up giving them to the detainees.”

Excesses seem to be the rule, said 1st Lt. Nicole Spears, 26, of Shreveport, La.

“I had a soldier get a year’s worth of Twizzlers,” she said. “And she doesn’t even like Twizzlers. But she gave them to other soldiers and they ate them.”

Another soldier, said Spc. Steve Bringhurst, 23, of Santa Rosa, Calif., was sent more than two years’ worth of toothpaste.

“She got not only 15 tubes of toothpaste, but more bags of sunflower seeds than they can count,” he said.

But for the most part, soldiers appreciate anything from home.

“Whenever soldiers get a package,” 2nd Lt. Allison Morse, a postal team leader, said, “they’re happy.”

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