[August 26, 2020] “Mail Call.” The shouted notice by our Administrative Staff Sergeant was time for high spirits. We were getting mail. By the end of 2004, my unit had been in combat for over ten months when a card arrived for me from an Oklahoma Schoolgirl. How she got my name, I’ll never know, but I found it oddly entertaining to hear from a third-grade girl living in the middle of Oklahoma. I think her name was Mary.
In the card was a school photograph of Mary, a hand-drawn picture of a soldier, and a short sentence thanking me for “helping keep people free.” Without giving it much thought, I composed a letter back to her and enclosed a Saddam Hussein 10 dinar currency note. I wrote “free mail” in the upper right of the envelope where a stamp would go and threw it in my outbox. In it, I thanked her for writing and wished her all the best.
It was about a month later when I received more than two dozen cards from the same elementary school. Several enclosed photographs and some asked for a Saddam Hussein dinar note. It was apparent that the little girl had shown off her prize and had encouraged others to write. I passed the various cards around our small shop to those who had little mail.
Having moved several times since that year, I lost track of the card. Young Mary was not the only unsolicited mail I received while deployed. At least two elderly care facilities, a High School in Texas, and a Women’s Christian Group in Michigan wrote to me. Occasionally I would get a book to read or toothpaste. We all liked chocolate candy and put it on a common’s table to share.
I learned from the experience. Most notable was that there were folks in the United States that genuinely cared about troops deployed overseas, and they were willing to take the time to write to us. Here is what I also learned:
- Never underestimate the American people or their generosity. They respect our military and love us more than we can imagine. That respect and love should never be taken for granted, no matter what. This is something precious.
- Young people are smarter than we think. Mary is just one example, but nearly every letter we got was from kids in school, not college. They were creative too. Almost all of them had a drawing, politely composed comments, and colorful trimmings.
- If you wrote them back, you would get many more letters and cards. Rewarding human behavior brings more of that behavior. Mary talked. Others listened. And we continued to get hundreds of letters and cards from school kids from all over the U.S.
- Attention to detail matters. When I included a Saddam Hussein dinar, it was not by mistake. I wanted Mary to have something to hold onto, something she would pleasantly remember forever about the U.S. military. In that small gesture, a little detail, I succeeded.