Our school recently sent batches of letters to soldiers completing their Basic Training down in Ft. Benning, Georgia thanking them for their service this Veterans’ Day. A recent graduate, Liam Clark, is there, just one of the thousands of young men and women learning to be soldiers. They maybe don’t feel like Veterans yet, because they haven’t exactly “done” anything major like be sent somewhere dangerous, except away from their homes, or maybe saved anyone exactly, or defeated an enemy, or protected a child, or kept a community of innocent people safe. On this Veterans Day, we need to also remember those young men and women just now entering this line of work. They have committed to serving the United States military in a myriad of ways, the first part of which trains them to be soldiers and what that means.
When I left for college, I was homesick. I wrote letters to anyone who might write back. I was the girl in the campus post office leaving with stacks of real mail, daily, the envy of many of her fellow freshmen. I remember going to a support group for homesick kids and happened to be the only one who showed up with the counselor from student services. It was so embarrassing. But this was college, not the military. I had a phone. I could call a friend or my parents any time I wished, the result of which was a very expensive phone bill those first few months until I adjusted. I could write letters and walk comfortably over to the PO in my jeans and flannel shirt (it was the late 90s) and mail whatever needed mailing. I could pop into a dining hall really at any hour when I needed a snack. I was neat and organized by nature, but no one was checking up on my personal space.
But there in Basic Training, for nine weeks, these young, new, expectant soldiers sacrifice their personal freedoms, individual expression, complete autonomy, many for whom is the first time in their lives they’ve had to do so. So when the ninth grader in my English class asks, “But, Mrs. Krill, what should I say to them? I’ve never been to war either.” My first thought is to giggle because these new soldiers also have not yet been to war, at least in the traditional sense.
“When you are away from your family or friends or things that make you comfortable and cozy, what might someone say that would have a comforting effect?”
“Or, how about trying to make a connection with that soldier by telling him or her that your grandfather or aunt or own mom or dad served in the ___________branch of the military?”
This makes sense as I watch them begin writing their cards more earnestly.
“Mrs. Krill, are you sure someone is going to read this? I mean, how do we know that these letters are going to reach anyone for real?” And I smile because this lack of trust in the postal service is something I’ve never experienced.
“Well, I’m going to put the actual address on the front of this giant envelope and send it off with all the faith in my world that these letters will reach those new soldiers completing basic training who maybe don’t get much mail from their families.”
Another ninth grader chimes in, “But why wouldn’t their families write to them? Aren’t they proud of them for serving the county?”
“Exactly,” I reply, “I think you’ve discovered the words you should write on the inside of the card. And I don’t know why people don’t write letters anymore, especially to their own family– maybe they have never been taught or maybe they’ve never liked to write. Hard to say.”
Here is a sample letter to a new young soldier and if you, by chance, are the recipient, please know how much thought, understanding, compassion and realization went into these words:
I AM PROUD OF YOU FOR CHOOSING TO SERVE OUR COUNTRY. THAT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN AN EASY DECISION TO MAKE. THANK YOU!!!!! WE APPRECIATE HOW HARD YOU HAVE HAD TO WORK SINCE YOU ARRIVED. THERE MUST BE SO MANY PUSH UPS AND PEOPLE ORDERING YOU AROUND. YOU MUST BE REALLY TIRED ALL THE TIME. HUNGRY TOO I BET. WHEN I’M LONELY, I EAT TOO MUCH, BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT SO MAYBE YOU COULD JUST THINK ABOUT THE KIND OF FOODS YOU WOULD EAT IF YOU COULD. BUT I’VE ALSO STARTED EXERCISING WHICH HAS HELPED WITH MY STRESS LEVEL. YOU ALREADY HAVE TO EXERCISE A LOT SO MAYBE A NAP WOULD HELP YOU. OR MAYBE YOU COULD WRITE AN OLD FRIEND A LETTER ABOUT WHAT YOUR DAY IS LIKE OR WHAT YOU MISS ABOUT HOME. THAT MIGHT ALSO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER.
(but here is the best part)
YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO ME IF YOU NEEDED TO. I’VE ALWAYS THOUGHT ABOUT VETERANS AS BEING REALLY OLD GUYS AND SOME OF THEM ARE FOR SURE. BUT WHAT I’M THINKING ABOUT IS THAT EVERY YEAR THERE ARE THESE NEW BATCHES OF SOLDIERS WHO COMMIT TO THE UNITED STATES MILITARY. YOU DID THAT. AND, WELL, I THINK THAT IS PRETTY AWESOME. SO I DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO SAY, EXCEPT GOOD LUCK AND WE APPRECIATE YOU.
So for all you moms and dads and grandparents and aunts and uncles and sons and daughters and wives and husbands sending your loved ones off to the military, please know that Veterans Day is for you too. Keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers.
NOTE: Our Lin-Wood School Future Business Leaders of America Club is participating in a Million Thanks this November. If you wish to write a “generic” letter to an active soldier, please drop off to our front office by Wednesday, Nov. 28 and they will be sure to include your letter. Thank you for supporting our troops.