Packages to troops and civilians stationed outside the continental United States need to be mailed soon to make it there by the holidays, according to Peter Graeve, a plans and policy management analyst at the Military Postal Service Agency in Alexandria, Va.

Hanukkah, for example, begins Dec. 1, so Graeve said gifts should be in the mail by Oct. 19. Christmas mailing deadlines and considerations include:

Aca,!AcPackages going to Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world through the U.S. Postal Service should be mailed by Nov. 12.

Aca,!AcPackages sent by space available mail (SAM) should be sent by Nov. 20 to contingency locations, such as Army and Air Force Post Offices (APOs), Fleet Post Offices (FPOs), Diplomatic Post Offices (DPOs) and certain country codes with ZIP codes beginning with 093XX.

Aca,!AcThe SAM deadline for all other overseas military locations is Nov. 26.

Aca,!AcThe priority mail deadline is Dec. 4 to contingency locations. The deadline for all priority mail to other locations is Dec. 10.

Although express mail military services aren't available to contingency locations, express mail military services are available to other locations, if mailed by Dec. 18. Always check with the local post office to determine if this service is available for a particular APO/FPO/DPO address, said Graeve.

"Usually the mail deadlines run about the same every year, especially to Southwest Asia," Graeve said. "Only so many flights go there, and there's only so much air capacity to make sure (packages) get there as soon as possible.

"The only real difference from year to year is that the dates may vary by a day or two based on the calendar," said Graeve of mailing restrictions. "The list of restricted items going to Southwest Asia hasn't changed, but in Europe, they've started cracking down at the customs offices. Every country has different restrictions, but the basic guideline of (a parcel) not weighing more than 70 pounds and the girth not being more than 130 inches still apply in most cases, added Graeve.

Graeve encouraged anyone interested in mailing gifts overseas to always check the local post office for that country's restrictions.

Deadlines and restrictions depend on world locations and vary from each other, said Faye Slater, MPSA co-deputy director, adding a complete list of deadlines and banned items from the U.S. mail system can be found at

A list of restricted items that cannot be mailed to APOs/FPOs/DPOs and certain country codes can be found at .mil/mpsa/faqweb.pdf.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is offering a package of free packing materials, including 10 boxes, 10 customs forms with envelopes, 10 "Mili-Pac" shipping envelopes - which are specially printed to reflect the complexities of military mailing addresses - and a roll of Priority Mail tape.

USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said by calling the toll-free number 1-800-610-8734, anyone can request free shipping materials.

Brennan said the USPS was getting deluged with requests from military Families - about 1,000 calls a day since late September.

In response, it came up with a special kit of the most popular items ordered to send care packages to the troops, she said.

To order the special kit, mailers should call 1-800- 610-8734 and request Care Kit 4. Brennan said the USPS will ship it by Priority Mail, with delivery generally within a couple of days.

Although the packing materials are free, shippers must still pay normal postage costs.