When My Adopted Soldier And I Decided To Meet

They tell you contact usually ends when deployment ends. But I already had a few unusual things happen with my adopted soldier “K” so…why should this be any different? We started making plans for him, his wife and infant child to visit me in NYC. Both their friends and family and mine said, “What???” After all, we were strangers.

(At this point, I would like to suggest a detour for my readers with a loved one who is currently deployed. Perhaps the post where golf balls helped increase safety or how this all started. Why? Because parts of the following sections may be hard to read. And I’m a big fan of reducing stress.)

Most of the time

Most of the time our correspondence was light. I sent him a lot of funny stories about my daughter Sofia. But the events unfolding around him were anything but light. K was the first troop I ever got to know and he had one of the more difficult deployments of all the troops I’ve come to know. 10 days after I adopted him, they had a casualty. His unit had only been there a few weeks and this was not the first one. Then a nearby base was overrun and many lives lost. And so on. He would state these events simply, never going into detail.

At home, when I mentioned an attack, most people hadn’t heard of it. That felt very isolating. I felt like I was caring about somebody in a parallel universe. But I understood that people weren’t aware because I used to be one of them.

The worse things got, the more I wanted to do something to help protect him. I know that sounds crazy because he is a highly trained, very capable soldier and I am afraid of spiders. But I’m also a Mom so that protect-gene is hard to turn off.

Maybe I could do this

K told me that getting mail was like Christmas morning for them. I know that mail = better morale. Better morale can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. I thought, hey…If I could keep his morale up, maybe I could help him get home in better shape. Then I found out the Army has a soldier’s creed. So I made a “volunteer creed.”  I never told K because I wrote it for myself. I feel a little vulnerable sharing it but, I think it captures how I had come to feel.

I am my soldier’s soldier. My mission is to make sure he hears his name at every mail call for the duration of his deployment. To make him feel that the hard, dangerous job he does, the long stressful hours for days on end…is appreciated. To brighten his day if only for a few moments with a taste of home. To pray for his safe return. And to do this with no effort, thanks or consideration required on his part.  And no complaints or wavering on my part. I am my soldier’s soldier.  And I will never fail him.

He was in a remote base and mail arrived by convoy every two weeks. When you adopt, you send one care package a month and one letter a week. I doubled that to increase my chances of hitting both deliveries. Once he got a box much quicker than I expected. He explained that the convoys kept getting attacked so they started doing helicopter drops. Now mail came every 2-3 days.

ME:  That’s great!

ME ON THE INSIDE:  Uh oh.

How the heck was I going to make all those mail calls? Of course, it’s not like anyone knew that was my goal. A more sane person might just say forget it. Clearly, I am not that person. I decided to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Enlisting strangers

I started carrying around postcards. Especially when I travelled for work. If I were delayed at an airport I’d sit at the bar. After chatting with the bartender for a few minutes, I’d ask if he could do me a favor and say “hi” to my adopted soldier. Or if I were getting my nails done, I ask the girls around me.  After the initial surprise (you can adopt a soldier?) the answer was always yes. They felt good doing it. After they wrote a message, I’d address it (you keep addresses private) and drop in whatever mailbox in whatever town I was in.

His wife

Usually contact is with your soldier. But the Taliban kept shooting out their internet. So for the second half of his deployment, I had much more contact with his wife. That’s how I came to see the everyday impact on the family. She would share a “first” that baby Kyle did and I would realize, wow…another thing he missed and that she did solo.

One day she wrote that I might not hear from K for a while. And she wanted to let me know what was going on. His best friend, a fellow soldier deployed with him, had shot himself. The military calls this a Non-Combat Death. I don’t think this is an accurate description because I believe combat has a great deal to do with Army suicides.

I found out this soldier left behind a 3-yr-old son. I wrote a letter to the family.

K

I didn’t hear from him for a while but I got updates from his wife. Then he went on a mission for a few weeks where he had zero contact home. By the time he returned, he found a pile of mail on his bunk. There were packages from his wife and my daughter, plus a stack of mail from me and my army of strangers. Including a copy of the letter I sent his friend’s family. He appreciated it all. But the letter meant so very much to him. Maybe it’s why that day, we decided to meet in real life.

Visiting a total stranger sounded unusual to others. But the truth was, by that point, we didn’t feel like strangers at all.

New York City skyline

Where we planned to meet.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

24 thoughts on “When My Adopted Soldier And I Decided To Meet

  1. If you haven’t met yet, please give him and his family my regards. Your posts are often shared to my Facebook page and I hope this increases your readership, as I have a lot of Veterans and troop supporters as friends not to mention friends who have relatives deploying, deployed or have returned from our non reoprted on combat zones. K and those like him are not forgotten and by being there have gained more family and a bigger support group than they realize going back over 230 years. Thank you so much for what you do for them!

    • Thank you so much for sharing and reblogging! I appreciate the support and hope your fellow vets and those that love them enjoy the posts. I hope they can feel the caring that many civilian like me have for our troops.

      And I have met K and his family. Their visit was pretty amazing and a post for another day:) We are still good friends so I will give them your regards. And I will be happy to remind K of his larger family.

      • Hey Gina, aome time if you get to talk to K, will you tell him that I say “Thank You” to him for his wonderful service to our country and that he has my total support!!! and that I “Thank his family for their service too!!

  2. I worry that the rate of suicides is even higher than reported. The troops are under such extreme stress. And the stress doesn’t just –POOF!–go away when they get home. Then there are the families, and the extreme tension they live with, day in, day out. I don’t know what the concrete answer is, but I pray for them.

    • Susan, I suspect you may be right about the numbers. I don’t have the concrete answer either. But while it may be hard to influence what happens in a combat zone, I think we could do a better job at home. “We” means both military and civilian. Especially when it comes time for these troops to transition back to civilian life. Like you, I pray for them and their families.

  3. Gina, I have also posted this to Facebook. I work with a woman whose husband is working his way through the Wounded Warriors program now, but with two traumatic head injuries, it’s very rough going. We need to do so much more, now and in the future, as the rest of our husbands, wives, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, brothers and sisters come home. And we pray they do.

    • I am so sorry to hear what your friend’s husband is going through. But I’m very glad he is getting help and not trying to “go it alone.” The active military is 1% of our population and if you add vets, the number rises but it is still a SMALL segment of our society. I am very concerned that if transitions don’t improve, that if awareness and help for all PTSD does not increase, then we will create this cultural minority: a group of people who suffer among us, unknown.

      We cannot take the benefit of their service and then let them bear the resulting burden of that service alone.

      Thank you for supporting this family. Please tell them for me that I thank them for all that they have done. And thank you also for sharing this post. As a writer, this blog is my way of trying to promote greater understanding. Your support and the support of other readers helping me reach that goal means a lot.

  4. I have said it before and I would like to say it again…THANK YOU FOR ACTUALLY SUPPORTING THE TROOPS! Most everyone says they support the troops but you live the life and walk the walk. You are a great role model for your daughter and one day she will know what it means to be a patriot. You are one of the rare ones and I am proud of you!

    • Rob, thank you for your kind words! You know, there are many things I cannot do like: snap my fingers and create world peace, survive 5 minutes in boot camp and, of course, deal with the aforementioned spiders. But caring and writing some letters? That is within my power. I am honored to use that “power” for our troops. And very happy to let my daughter see me “walking the walk.” Thank you again!

  5. I think it’s great that all of you decided to meet. If you feel close enough to them and they to you then maybe this is the starting of a great relationship. Now you can talk face to face with the person(s) you have had concerns about in regards to their safety and well being. Hope all of you have a great time.

    • Michael,
      Some of my posts reflect things that just happened and some are from further back in my journey. K was my first troop and my friendship with him and his wife is what inspired me to do more. They did come to NYC and it was an amazing trip –and a future post 🙂 And it did mean a lot to be able to “exhale” and share how very worried I was and hear things from their point of view as well.

      As you have guessed, it was the start of a great relationship. They also have been totally supportive of my blog and how it may help others. His wife told me they trust me on how much I share. Even on the tougher topics. And when K deploys again, I will stand by him and his family again.

  6. Gina, to make a positive difference in the life of just one human being is perhaps our mission here on earth. I know in this respect you will well exceed that quota. So glad to hear your meeting was a successful one and likely to spark an enduring friendship.

    • Veronica,
      As an Army wife, you know firsthand what the words “service” and “sacrifice” can entail for every member of the family. Thank you for sharing this post and helping others understand as well.

  7. So glad the meeting went well, Gina. You’ve touched so many lives through your work. I really love the idea of carrying postcards with you to enlist strangers to write…paying it forward to the nth degree.

    • The postcards were a hit with those that helped me and with K. One woman actually cried because she was so moved. She always wanted to “do something” but didn’t really know what or how. I was never good at math but, the “nth degree” sounds awesome. I’d like to think maybe I came close 🙂

  8. Pingback: A Super-Sweet Thank You | beyond back creek

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