Five Do’s and Don’t’s When Writing to Someone at Basic Training or Boot Camp

So now your son or daughter, boyfriend or girlfriend, brother, sister or friend has headed off to Basic Training or Boot Camp. These next 8 to 10 weeks, or in the case of Marines 13 weeks will be some of the most challenging times for them and you.

Away from home, parents, loved ones, buddies and friends and surrounded by strangers (the other recruits) and non-smiling TI (Technical Instructors) or DI (Drill Instructors), the questions are… How do you stay in touch with them? How often should  you write? What should you say to help through the training until you can see them again at graduation?

Here are 5 simple Do’s and Don’t’s.

The DO’s.

  1. Simply write often to your soldier, sailor, airman, marine and guardsman.
    Remember …The best time of the day for these recruits will be ‘Mail Call’ ….especially when their name is called out!
  2. You don’t have to write a long letter; short upbeat notes from home can be just as effective.
  3. Send them photos, news about their favorite sports team or what’s going on at home.
  4. Use plain white envelopes, don’t decorate or scent the envelopes; this can get the Technical Instructor or Drill Instructors attention… usually not a good thing.
  5. Do tell them that you’re proud of them and that you’re looking forward to seeing them at Graduation or when they return home from training for a visit.

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t send money; they don’t have much spare time or access to shopping and all money is logged in and locked up. This more work for the Instructors and trouble for your recruit. I made this mistake myself!
  2. Don’t send pornography or ‘pin-up’ or nude photos, off-color or racist jokes or comics. These items can get your soldier, sailor, marine, airman or guardsman in serious trouble.
  3. Don’t send packages of goodies. Basic is not the time for ‘Care Packages”.
  4. Don’t complain about not being able to talk to them or about how lonely you are.
    They are worried about doing well in training, may be homesick  and wish they could talk more often to you. Hearing that you’re upset is another worry for them.
  5. Don’t send bad news…almost anything can wait until they have completed training.  Of course, in the event of family illness or death, you should contact the American Red Cross who will get in touch with your loved ones training commanders.

Services like Write2Them can make it easier for you and their friends to stay in touch while your loved one is at Basic Training or Boot Camp by letting you send email with attachments such as photos or newspaper articles, sport team updates, jokes, funny or inspirational stories, favorite quotes or Bible verses.  You can find more information about the Write2Them service at

About Helen Simmons

I am founder and Executive Director of Write2Them, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving communication between family members and loved ones in military service by turning email into letters from home. You send email and your loved one receives a letter. I am a proud mother of a Airman, a wonderful daughter and son-in-law and wife to my wonderful supportive husband of 30 years.
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41 Responses to Five Do’s and Don’t’s When Writing to Someone at Basic Training or Boot Camp

  1. ndjmom says:

    You forgot about Marines, they aren’t called soldiers, airmen, or sailors. You may not know, but they have 13 weeks of training, which is the longest in any service and the restrictions are even more strict. No phone calls on weekends, no cells phones at all. I have enjoyed your site and I’ll have to feature you on one of my Warrior Wednesday blogs.

    • Thank you for the heads up that I didn’t have all the services covered when I didn’t put Marines in the list. My Dad served during WWII in the Pacific with the 6th Marine Division in the battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa. Thank you again for bringing this to my attention.
      Also, thank you for the information about the Marine Basic Training period and the restrictions. It must be very difficult for the families to have so little contact and for such a long period.
      Write2Them really makes it easy for families and friends to write to the loved one at training and as you know the positive support from home can help them make it through!

    • Brandi says:

      They did mention the Marines in the very first paragraph. And a Marine is a solider still.

      • Hi Brandi,
        Do you have a special Marine or soldier in your life?
        My Dad is a WWII Marine and still with us at 89 years old and very much a proud Marine.
        I think when I first posted this blog and ndjmom commented, I had omitted Marines. As soon as she alerted me, I was happy to make a change to the blog and repost it.
        I hope you found the suggestions helpful as you write to a loved one at boot camp or basic training.
        Helen

  2. Jennifer says:

    Why no care packages? When asking some friends who recentlygot out of bct what they liked best, it was getting a care package. :-/

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for posting. It really depends on where the person is attending BCT. We recommend that no care packages be sent to BCT unless specifically directed by the recruit to send one.
      Once recruits complete their basic training and are on to Tech School or the next phase of their training, care packages are definitely welcome!!
      Best regards,
      Helen

    • Lori says:

      Because THE military SAYS so. Sorry, it isn’t just recommended, it’s plainly stated NO care packages until tech school. The servicemember will get into trouble and the items sent will be confiscated. After Basic…packages are allowed.

      • Hi Lori,
        Where did you or your loved one go through Basic Training?
        Our general advice is always DON’T SEND any care packages during training periods unless specifically told to do so by the recruit or cadet once they are at their training location.
        Our son told us about one trainee in his flight at Lackland who’s mom sent power bars for everyone. Of course, care packages are not allowed during Air Force Basic Training and the TI (Tech Instructor) made the kid eat the bars until he was sick. :-(
        Thanks,
        Helen

  3. so don’t send color envelopes or color paper???

    • HI Monica,

      Thanks for asking the question! Well…most trainees or recruits try not attract the attention of their Drill or Technical Instructors during basic training or boot camp. Colorful items…especially decorated envelopes (those with drawings, doodles, hearts etc.) will catch the eye of the instructors. This may result in a bit of teasing or extra training (a couple more situps or push ups.)
      Whatever you do, however, just keep writing to your loved one or friend while they are at basic training…they need those letters and your support!!!

  4. Sheri says:

    Hello Helen,
    I’ve sent two letters to my daughter who is in Basic Training in Parris Island. I wrote the first one, but I typed the second one. I’m wondering if that’s too impersonal. On the typed letter is was able to insert a picture of Bella (our dog) who absolutely adores our daughter. Just wondering what your thoughts are.

    Thank you,
    Sheri

    • Dear Shari,

      Wow, you must so proud of your daughter enlisting in the Marine Corps. I think your daughter needs as much positive support and encouragement that she can get while she is at Parris Island for boot camp! Whatever way is easiest for you and your family to get those messages to her is the best way.

      Overwhelmingly, we have heard from recruits that they are so happy to hear their name called at mail call and know that someone cared enough to send a card or letter that they don’t care whether the note is short or long, on notebook paper or fine stationery, handwritten or typed. The important thing is that they got mail from someone back home and that those positive words and photos made them smile at the end of a very hard day of training.

      Our goal at Project Write2Them is to make it as easy as possible for parents, grandparents, spouses, family and friends to send those letters of support to those loved ones during basic training and boot camp.

      Wishing the best for your daughter as she begins her service to our country as a Marine!

  5. Bethany says:

    My Sailor just began boot on Wednesday and i have already written two cards. I was trying to find stationary to write him on, but was coming up empty handed. I decided to buy scrap booking supplies and decorate plain cards to make them more personal. These cards came with envelopes that are a plain brown kinda old fashioned look. Will that draw too much negative attention to him? I certainly don’t want to make him suffer in any way or end up suffering a lack of letters because of my attempt to cheer him up.

    • Hi Bethany,

      Thanks for asking the question! I love your idea about creating cards from scrap booking supplies.
      Honestly, I don’t know about the plain brown envelopes as we recommend just plain white envelopes as do most of the other military support groups.
      I would think that your envelopes would probably ‘fly under the radar’ especially if you don’t decorate them or spritz them with perfume.
      I am sure that your Sailor would not mind doing a few extra push ups for the pleasure of having a card from you!

      Also, just ask him in your next letter. Of course, one day the instructor might be fine with the envelope and the next day decide it is not fine, which is all just part of the training is to keep them on their toes and to learn to adapt to changing rules and requirements.

      Bethany, in addition to writing your Sailor, you might want to start a scrapbook for your Sailor’s Navy career. There are some great products out there with military themed stickers, papers and a variety of actual scrapbooks.

      Let me know if I can help at all.

      Best regards,
      Helen

  6. Ashton says:

    My boyfriend has been in basic for the Navy 10 days now. Still no phone call other than the “I’m here, bye” and no mail other than the box. I have written a letter every day and my daughter has written a letter and drew a picture for him. I’m hoping to get a letter with a return address soon, my question is how long can this take?

    • Hi Ashton,
      It can take awhile for them to get some free time and energy to write home. The Navy keeps them very busy especially during those first weeks.
      He will love getting all your letters and your daughter’s picture when you do send them out.
      Letters from home really help keep their spirits up during boot camp.
      Keep writing and I hope you get the address soon!
      Helen

  7. bre says:

    So can we send pictures with the letter tho?

    • HI Bre,
      Yes. You can definitely send pictures to your loved one while they are in boot camp or basic training.

      Just make sure that they are tasteful (no pin up type photos); you don’t want to get your guy in trouble.

      If you use Write2Them, you can simply attach your photos to your email and they are printed and mailed right out with your email. We suggest med resolution photos if you’re using a smart phone.

      Thanks for reading the blog and asking the question!

      Helen

    • Ashton says:

      I just spoke to my bf in the Navy and he got my letters and I sent a photo strip from a photo booth of my daughter and I. He said he was thrilled to receive them and asked me to send more but to put the pictures inside the letter. Obviously don’t send any provocative pictures, but he said they have a lock box they can keep letters and pictures in. Hope this helps :)
      -Ashton

  8. Erica says:

    Hi there,

    My boyfriend just left for boot camp a few days ago. I understand not to decorate the envelope, but is it okay if I write the letter itself on personalized stationery? It’s not anything fancy, literally just lined white paper with a simple vector art in the top right corner. I’m afraid that he might get yelled at or have to do push-ups for it though. Advice please?

    Thanks.

    • Erica
      Training Instructors and Drill Instructors are going to look for “training” opportunities during basic training and boot camp. Honestly, I don’t think your stationery will result in your boyfriend getting more attention. Be careful with photos that you send. Always make sure that they are tasteful and not “pin up” type. If the TI or DI want to provide some additional attention or training push ups for an individual or a group, they will certainly find some reason to do so.
      Try not to worry about him; just keep sending him lots of letters of support.
      Good luck,
      Helen

  9. Naf says:

    Hey,
    Well me and my boyfriend have been in long distance relationship for almost three years now, we have met once. Now, he is leaving for his BCT in couple of days. Can it be more difficult? How are we supposed to get their address for sending them letters? Or in my case, is there any alternative like sending emails?
    Thanks.

    • If you are already use to having a long distance relationship, it probably won’t be that much different except you will not be able to talk or text each other during BCT.
      After almost 3 years, I would think that you and he might have exchanged actual mailing addresses. If so then you will have to wait for him to send you a handwritten letter with his physical mailing address at BCT. After that you can send him handwritten letters or sign up for the Write2Them service which let’s you send emails (along with attached photos) while he is in training. You can find out more about Project Write2Them at http://www.write2them.org .
      Good Luck,
      Helen

  10. Marie says:

    Hello
    My son went to army BCT for the first time Jan 2014. Since then we have heard from him 3 times by phone and letter. I sent him 2 sheets of photos on 8×11 one a picture drawing. I drew a dog tag on back of envelope and another warning message saying contents may make you laugh. I also sent them priority mail. My question is Is this TROUBLE?

    • How wonderful that you have heard from your son 3 times in his first month at BCT!
      I am sure that he enjoyed the photos and the drawing. I love your creativity about the dog tag and comment on the back of the envelope, but it probably did catch the eye of the Instructor. That doesn’t mean that your son got in “trouble” for it; it just drew attention to him and most of the guys at BCT try to ‘fly under the radar’ and avoid extra attention. I wouldn’t worry about it and you might ask him about it in your next letter.
      One of things we emphasize to the families using Write2Them is just to keep a steady stream of emails coming in so that every day a letter goes out
      to their loved one. Creating that pipeline of letters on their way results in their name always being called at Mail Call.
      Best to you and your son,
      Helen

      • Marie says:

        Thank you
        I needed to hear those words. I’m a worrier so having you as a voice of warmth and experience gives a lot less grief. So thanks again for your sacrifice and kindness.

  11. yazmine says:

    Hello, my boyfriend just left this Monday to basic training at fort benning. I was wondering how long after reception do I have to wait to get an address to send him letters?? Also, wen do they find out there family day dates???

    • Hi Yazmine,

      Unfortunately, I don’t know how long it will be before you get his address at Ft Benning so you can write to him.
      I am sure that as soon as he gets a chance he’ll write to you and let you know the address because Mail Call will definitely be the best part of his day especially if there is a letter from you!

      I bet you’re missing your boyfriend right now a lot and writing to him will definitely help you feel closer to him.
      Just remember to keep it positive when you do write because he doesn’t need to be worried about you, he needs to be focused on doing his best during training.

      You might want to check out the website for the National Association of Military Moms and Spouses. They have support groups for girlfriends too!

      Good luck to you and your soldier!

  12. Natty says:

    Helen,

    Hi and thanks for a great post!! My husband will be leaving for AF BMT soon, and my idea was to send him post cards in lieu of actual letters (save on postage ($.34 vs $.49) and forces me to keep the messages short and sweet as I can accidentally go on and on without realizing it). Do you think this will attract extra unwanted attention towards him? Should I scrap this idea all together? He definitely wants to stay under the radar as much as possible! TIA!!!

    • Natty,
      I am so sorry that my response to your post is so late! I love the idea of the postcards, but yes I think this will attract some extra attention.
      You are right on track about keeping your message short and sweet and upbeat. You know that he’ll miss you tons and the last thing he needs to be worried even more about you than he already is.
      I would suggest sending one and asking him in your next letter if it was an issue.
      Let me know!
      Good luck to you and your new hubby!

  13. Amy says:

    Hi there! I was wondering if you know if the letters are screened? I know it’s an odd question, but I just don’t want my boyfriend to get in trouble because his girlfriend is writing him. I was wondering if I should pretend to be his cousin, or something like that. :) Thank you!

    • Hi Amy,

      I don’t believe that letters are screened in the sense that all letters are opened are read. There is no need to ‘hide’ your identity in your letters.
      We have many girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands as customers, who send photos of themselves or the children at home in their daily emails to their loved one at basic training. We do caution everyone that all photos sent should be in good taste and not ‘pin up’ type photos.

      That said, Drill Instructors (DI) and Training Instructors (TI) are on the look out for inappropriate content in letters and for training opportunities.
      Letters sent in colorful envelopes with drawings on the outside or greeting cards are sure to attract attention and the recruit may be asked to share the card or letter with their platoon or training flight. Sometimes the instructor will ‘request’ that some push ups or sit ups be completed as part of this training opportunity.

      You shouldn’t worry about sending your boyfriend letters or cards. He needs to hear from you and his family and friends throughout basic training or boot camp. Worst case is that he does a couple of extra push ups…a small price to pay for letter from home!

  14. Alex D says:

    Hi!
    My boyfriend got to boot camp yesterday. When he called to say he got there, he said that he won’t be able to write for three weeks. Can I still send him letters right away?

    Thank you,
    Alex

    • Alex,
      Do you have his mailing address at Parris Island or San Diego?
      If so you should be able to send him mail.
      They are so busy at boot camp and the first weeks are really an adjustment. While he might not be able to write to you, but he’ll sure enjoy getting your letters.
      Wishing you and your boyfriend all the best,
      Helen
      P.S. If you want to run the mailing address by me to check if it look right, just email me at info@write2them.org.

  15. Khadajaih says:

    This was very helpful my boyfriend just left and I wasnt sure if they were allowed to have pictures and cards. I was so afraid that I would do something to get him in trouble but this answered all my questions.

    • You should definitely send him cards and photos…just make sure that the photos and the cards are in good taste. The cards may get his instructor’s attention and he might be asked
      to share the card with all his buddies…but that is part of the training experience!
      It is really important to keep sending him letters to keep him going strong! Remember to tell him how proud you are for his decision to serve!
      Keep all your letters and cards positive. Do tell him that you miss him, but don’t complain if you don’t get a letter from him. He’s very busy and exhausted at the end of the day!

      Good luck to you and your boyfriend!

      Helen

  16. Desi says:

    I was wondering if I could send paper, envelopes and stamps for our sailor in boot camp in Great Lakes. I packed it in a plastic bubble mailer. It’s not white, but I couldn’t find a white one. Will this be okay. Or will he get In trouble?

    • Desi,

      When they are in boot camp or basic training they are usually not allowed to receive packages from home. I am not sure if the padded envelope will fly under the radar or not.
      Before you send him the paper, envelopes and stamps, I would write to him or wait for his phone call and ask if it is ok to send.
      He will have a chance to shop for these types of items at Great Lakes at the base or post exchange (on military installations shopping is done at the Exchange or the Commissary for groceries).

      Good luck to you and your Sailor!

      Helen

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