How To Write To A Soldier

Troops say mail call is like, “Christmas morning.” But what do you write if you’re strangers? Many people have asked so I’m sharing a few tips and a simple structure that work for me. If you’ve never written before or just want some ideas, feel free to use anything here.

Tips

Be positive and encouraging. Remember, troops have the stress of being far from home and who knows what else may be going on. This is not the time to vent. That’s what BFFs and the pint-sized ice cream container were invented for.

The polite company rule – avoid religion and politics, is always a good first letter idea. Another is to simply be conversational and genuine. If your spouse, child, or other loved one were deployed, how would you want someone to talk to them? 

And, of course, safety first. That would be OPSEC/PERSEC. It stands for Operational Security and Personal Security. Don’t share their address and other info.

As for specifics, I’ve divided your first letter into four easy pieces: Dear_____, intro paragraph, wonderful middle, and sincere close.

Dear ___________

I follow the lead of whatever’s in the request or information I receive. If troops use their first name, so do I. If they use rank and last name, that’s how I fill in the blank. In some cases, you don’t have a name but a branch of the military. If it’s Army, then I write, Dear Soldier.

All troops are not Soldiers. Army = Soldier, Air Force = Airman, Navy = Sailor (Navy construction battalion, it’s Seabee) Marine Corps = Marine. Coast Guard I have heard referred to as Coast Guardsman and those stationed on ships as Sailors. If you don’t happen to have a name or branch, you can write Dear Servicemember.

Intro Paragraph

I introduce myself and why I’m writing. I also include the name of the charity I got their information from. In some cases, they may not be expecting my letter. That happens when others submit a troop who they feel needs a morale boost.

Example: Hi, my name is Gina, I’m a Soldiers’ Angel from NYC and I’m writing to thank you for your service. I have an awesome little girl named Sofia who says to tell you, “hi.” 

If I know anything about them, such as where they’re from, I’ll talk about it in the next line or two. Then I start setting up whatever story I’m going to share.

The Wonderful Middle

Here I write about home. After all, home and all the wonderful things in it, is what they miss most. In my case, it’s often a funny story involving Sofia. But other great topics include sports you watch or play, something special about your hometown, your amazing pet, a recent movie, concert, an event with friends- even if it’s just sitting around the fire pit under the stars telling jokes, hobbies, …whatever you care about.

I think what’s also helpful is if you can write it visually. A Vietnam Vet told me that when he received letters that they would transport him, even if for a short time, away from the horrible place he was. So whatever story I’m writing, I try to paint a picture to help them take a break from their current locale. For example, you can see how the fire pit sounds more interesting than the other items in the list above because you can “see it.”

I also try to include a question or two to give them something to respond to if they reply. Of course, not everyone has the time or ability (regular internet connection or outgoing mail) to write back. If you’ve just worked eight 16-hr days in a row, you may want to spend your day off getting some rest, trying to connect with family, or just zoning out in your bunk with movies and games.

Sincere Close

I wrap up by acknowledging this servicemember’s role in the wonderful things we get to enjoy. Example: I know the reason Sofia has the freedom to ______(whatever I just shared) in peace and safety is because of the hard work you and your fellow troops do every day. Thank you for all you do. 

Sometimes I’ll ask them to thank their family on my family’s behalf. Because I know they are sacrificing too. If I know there’s been a specific morale issue, I may assure them they are not forgotten. If I know there’s been loss of life or injuries, I’ll want them to know we are keeping them in our prayers. Then I include my email address to make replying easier.

Write right

There’s more than one right way to do this. I think if you let courtesy and kindness be your guide, you’ll do great. Our deployed troops really do appreciate any little thing. Including a stranger taking the time to remember those who fight to defend their freedoms.

Update on a note Sofia sent that follows none of these tips…lol (although, this wasn’t her first letter to our Marine.) He deployed again and took her advice! Two of his Marines did a very good job and he told Sofia to imagine them in a combat zone with smiley face stickers on their uniforms. He said, “that should bring a smile to your face.” It most certainly did!

(name blurred for privacy)

© Gina left the mall, 2013

63 thoughts on “How To Write To A Soldier

    • Rob, your kind words bring tears to mine. At this point I have a pretty good idea of what it means to serve. So to have you say that I serve as well (in my own way) means a great deal to me. Thank you!

      • One of the things I always struggle with is accepting a heartfelt thanks for what I did when I was in the military. Mainly because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I had earned the right to be proud of my service.

        I say this to you because I hope that you know that you have earned the right to be proud of your service. You are actually doing something to support the troops. You are actually serving, you are engaged, involved, motivated and constantly searching for that service member that needs a kind word, a card or even a smiley face sticker.

        You are a wonderful role model for your daughter and for all of us.

        Thank You!

  1. just need an address of somekind to send letters to. I don’t mine writing, gives me something to do and I love to write. I also have two children in the armed forces.

    • Hi Phyllis,
      Soldier’s Angels has a Letter Writing Team among other specific ones (such as Wounded TLC where you write to troops in hospitals) You just need to sign up (it’s free) then they will email a troop’s address and answer any questions. Here is the link : http://www.soldiersangels.org

      There are other charities that also do letters but SA is the one I know best and I’ve had many positive experiences. Almost everyone there is a volunteer. Any time I’ve needed help, my fellow “angels” have been more than generous with their time and efforts. So take a look and see if it’s right for you. And please accept my thanks for your children’s and your family’s service.

      • Gina,

        Thank you for that link I had the same question.

        I also wondered if soldiers appreciate letters from the opposite sex more than the same sex. Depends on the person I suppose. And is it ever appropriate to flirt a bit in some situations? 🙂

        Thank you for the guide and direction.

        Darin

        • Darin,
          I would recommend NOT flirting. You’re trying to do something nice for someone and you don’t want them to feel like you have ulterior motives. Also, you’re writing to a stranger. What one person may perceive as flirting, another may feel crosses the line. Why even risk something coming across as disrespectful?

          As for gender, our Military is overwhelmingly male. But I think as long as a letter is sincere, someone in a combat zone (male or female) would not care who wrote it.
          Gina

    • That’s great Caroline! Personally, I’ve become pen pals with troops 3 ways:

      1. Adopting a soldier (through Soldiers’ Angels or Adopt A U.S. Solider.) That involves one letter a week and one care package a month. But if you prefer letters without the commitment and involvement of adoption, there’s…

      2. One of the Letter Writing Teams or TLC at Soldiers’ Angels. I would write letters to different troops for one-time support and some of them turned into pen pals. The Marine who got the stickers was one of my TLC’s that turned into a now 3.5 year pen pal friendship.

      3. Cup of Joe. – You buy coffee for the troops ($2 a cup, any amount of cups) send a message and check the pen pal option. If the troops receiving it have also checked the pen pal option, there you go. Even if they don’t, most email a note of thanks.

      There may be other charities out there that just do pen pals but I only reco ones I’ve used or that my readers have. If you want to learn more about these 3, I have info and links in my Ways To Make A Difference Page in the header and right here: https://ginaleftthemall.com/make-a-difference-2/

      Hope this helps and that you find something right for you. Thank you for caring!

      • I know this is old but new people may be reading. I would remind you that most letter writing organizations are NOT trying to foster a PEN PAL or DATING relationship! You are doing it to support THEM. They are doing their job and that is their priority. If you are not okay with sending weekly letters and occasional care packages with no response then find a one time commitment instead of adoption.

        • Hi Bob,
          You are correct that new people read this post so being CLEAR is a good thing. So in that spirt:

          1. You are correct, none of this is about DATING and I never meant to imply that.

          2. Not all organizations foster PEN PALS but the ones I have the most experience have turned out that way. HOWEVER – THERE IS NEVER ANY EXPECTATION OR STRINGS ATTACHED FOR SUPPORT . In fact the airman I most recently adopted is my first “silent servicemember.” And that’s fine. No one is required to do anything in order to get support. They already do enough just doing their job.
          The organizations I’ve worked with make it clear when someone volunteers that you may not hear back at all. However, since this reader expressed an interest in becoming a pen pal, I gave her ways that it may POSSIBLY happen.

          3.Operation Gratitude is great place to do a one-time letter if anyone reading is interested in that.

          Thank you for reading and giving me a chance to further clarify 🙂

  2. I just want to say thankyou 🙂 I am a US Airforce spouse and before I met my husband he had been on a particularly bad deployment as part of an Army Squadron doing convoys in Iraq. Before we married he showed me the letters that had been sent to him from volunteers throughout the USA and told me about care packages he received. He said that they brought light to his days and they helped him so much during what was an incredibly hard time in his life! Things like this really DO make a difference in servicemembers lives. Thankyou!!

    • Joanne,
      Thank you for your kind words. I’m so happy to hear that volunteers all over made sure your husband knew he was cared about and appreciated. Especially at such a difficult time! When my first soldier returned from Afghanistan, his wife told me that he brought home a box of letters and postcards that I had sent him. He saved every one. I was surprised and touched that he held onto them. Since then, I’ve learned how much even a small kindness can mean to our deployed. Now I’m not surprised in the least that your husband had his. Please tell him I thank him for his service and I’m grateful for all you do as well.

  3. Gina, another great post. So informative. Practical advice like this is so valuable. I would’ve thought that mention of home might be painful to a soldier, but apparently it comforts rather than upsets them.

  4. Thank you for the suggestions! I’ve made hundreds of cards for Operation Write Home (blank cards to be distributed to deployed military to write home). OWH includes a packet of “Hero Mail” with every shipment, but I’ve never made any because I simply can’t think of what to say to a stranger. I may try it with a little encouragement from you here!

    • Adele,
      I think it’s wonderful that you make these cards! Thank you so much for doing this for our troops and their families. I bet they love them! And I am thrilled that you may give it try. I think it would be fun after making so many, to use one to say hello:)

  5. Thank you Gina, I have wanted to write letters to servicemen and women but don’t know where to find names, address, etc. I make cards for Operation Write Home, but that is making cards for them to send home to friends and family, not for us to encourage them. Any help would be great!

    • Hi Marsha,
      Thank you for making cards for our troops! I had not heard of Operation Write Home until I met Adele in the comment above:) There are many ways to write to our troops through various charities. I will give you a Soldiers’ Angels example because it’s one I’ve done a lot.

      1. Sign up for Soldiers’ Angels (it’s free)

      2. You can join a team that writes letters to a specific group (deployed, wounded etc) or, go to their Forum and see what requests there are.

      3. I often go to the Forum and read TLC (tender loving care) This is for troops on the waiting list to be adopted or if someone needs a a morale boost. Click on the requests. Choose who you would like to write to.

      4. “PM” the moderator (the person who posted the request) PM means to send a private message on the forum. Or sometimes the moderator will post their email address. They will tell you what to put in the subject line of the message or email so they know which request you are responding to.

      5. Then they send you the name and address of the serviceman or woman you requested.

      6. You write to them 🙂

      Hope this helps and thank you again for all you do! ps-there are links and other info in my Ways To Make A Difference page. https://ginaleftthemall.com/make-a-difference-2/

  6. Just a note from a US Navy Seabee Veteran’s wife: Just because they serve(d) the US Navy, doesn’t mean they are(were) a sailor 🙂 Seabees HATE being called Sailors since most never even step foot on a boat! 🙂
    Thank you for serving our soldiers with these letters! I sent multiple care packages to my brother and husband, who of course, shared with those that didn’t receive anything. It’s amazing how many soldiers don’t receive anything from their loved ones and what a joy it is for them to receive something from someone they don’t even know!

    *GoldStar sister of CPO Raymond J. Border (Seabee), KIA 10/19/11
    *Wife of a Seabee Veteran

    • Shanna,
      Thanks for the Seabee intel, I just updated that section. But since the info a volunteer gets is often minimal, I’m going to ask you to pass along a message. If a Seabee signs up for support at a charity, please ask them to identify that they’re a Seabee 🙂

      It was very kind of you to send extra care packages to your husband for sharing. As I mentioned, I’ve been told numerous times that hearing your name at mail call is like Christmas morning. But I’ve also been told what it’s like NOT to hear your name. It pains me. But it also fuels my determination to keep doing the little things I do. What is lovely is that being a stranger in no way diminishes the power of kindness.

      I also want to thank you and your family for your service and sacrifice. And express my most sincere condolences for the loss of your brother. I was interviewing a USO volunteer and AF Mom at RDU when I met a GoldStar Mom. She was there helping a woman, “bring her husband home.” Freedom most certainly is not free and no troop should ever feel forgotten or unloved.

      https://ginaleftthemall.com/2013/02/28/air-force-mom-mission-of-love/

    • Word of caution here. It is always okay to address a member of the Navy as a Sailor- regardless if they served a tour of duty on a ship (and yes, call it a ship not a boat). If you are able to find out that sailors rating (his or her job) he or she may be called something else within the Navy. ie. There are Naval Airmen, Seals, Seabees, DC (Damage Control), CTI (Linguists), Musicians, Corpsmen and much, much more. In the instance in which you know what the sailor does, it is much more appropriate to call them by rate. BUT DO NOT let that stop you from sending them mail! They love it- no matter if they are Sailor Segar today or Seabee Segar.

      • Hey Ollie,
        Thanks for the additional intel! I think the bottom line is this: what makes a letter “perfect” is the care and thought it is sent with. So, if you’ve got details or a name, great. But if not, what you point out is true, they will love it no matter what.

        And if any Sailors, Seabees or other Navy folks would like to check out a nice and very helpful blog (especially for those new to the Navy family), Ollie is one of the authors of: Buoyed Up http://buoyed-up.com/

  7. Okay, Gina. Now you have me going. I have the address I need to contact and I will find myself a penpal and start writing. Actually, I am rather excited about this. I will let you know how it goes. Thank You!!!!!

  8. Gina,
    Thanks for your blog, I was found your link through Operation Write Home and plan to go through and read all your posts! I also support service members through Books For Soldiers….just mailed off a box of books, cds and DVDs and some toiletries. I also write letters….thanks for giving people an idea of how to write a letter to our service members and I love Sofia’s stories!
    Paula

    • Paula,
      Thanks for reading…and reading and reading 🙂 Sofia stories have quite a few fans both deployed and home. Whenever I draw a blank, she says or does something that helps me out..lol.

      I’ve heard about Operation Write Home from a few people, researched their site and added them to the Reader Reco’s in my Ways To Make A Difference page. Did you just start with Books For Soldiers? Have you been doing it for a while? If you’ve had positive experiences, let me know.

      And most of all, thank you for all you do. I’m sure you must how much it means to our troops and their families to receive this kind of care and support.
      Gina

      • Gina,
        I have been doing Books For Soldiers for a while and have enjoyed it, in fact I just got a Thank You card from a service member I sent a book to and it was made by an Operation Write Home volunteer so I guess it has come full circle. I am also currently supporting soldiers through Adopt a 3 ID Soldier and Adopt A Platoon. I sometimes hear from the people I support and sometimes not a peep but I guess you just have to do it from the heart and leave it at that. Take care.
        Paula

  9. Pingback: Buoyed Up | How Do You Address A Member of the US Navy?

    • Hi, I don’t know personally so I did a quick search and found an Australian Dept of Defense site where you can send emails that are shared and postcards: http://www.defence.gov.au/people/message_to_troops.htm In my very quick search I didn’t see an organization devoted to letter-writing. (one did have care packages you could send for free IF you live in Australia)

      If anyone knows an organization devoted to Aussie troops, please let reply to Donna’s comment. Thanks, G

  10. Dear Soldiers, Words can’t begin to express my gratitude for what you guys and chicks do over there. I really appreciate everything you guys do. You guys are my hero’s!!!!!!!! I’d like to become friends with y’all !!!

    • Dear Rachael,
      Based on my experience with both troops and their families, I can tell you for sure that your feelings and kind words are very much appreciated. And there are many ways to “be friends” 🙂 If you need ideas, you can check out Ways To Make A Difference at the top of the page or right here: http://tinyurl.com/lew5l2f
      Gina

      • Gina, It makes me so incredibly happy knowing that I can be a small source of comfort to our troops. Both of my uncles served in the navy and would tell me how much letters,cards,etc meant to them. My Grandfather served in the Korean war so I know all about how lonely it can get first hand so to speak. I immediately grab my phone when I first wake up to tell them know I’m thinking about them.

    • Rachael, if you want a pen-pal (or email pal), you’re best bet is to sign up a charity. Though, even then, sometimes troops may not respond for a variety reasons. I have a list of some of them here in the link of above.

  11. Hey everyone serving in any branch of the military!!!!!! Just thought I’d tell you I’m praying for you guys!!!! I think about you guys all the time!!!

  12. Just a question for the soldiers…. What do you get to eat over there? What do they serve you to eat? I’m a good cook but learning how to cook more and more thanks to many cook books lol. I love to cook things like fijitas, chili, spaghetti, and made from scratch chocolate chip cookies. I like to read a lot. What about you guys? How do you spend what free time you have?
    Sincerely,
    Rachael N. Payne
    Gallatin, Tn

    • Rachael,
      I love your enthusiasm! I What you’re doing at your church is a wonderful way to make sure soldiers hear your kind words. Since this post is about how to write to a troop, I think it’s mostly civilians who are reading.

      UPDATE- You’ve left a lot of messages for troops in these comments, however they will not receive them. You need to share your words in a postcard or a letter. Or sign up for Cup Of Joe if you’d like to send that message with a $2 cup of coffee http://tinyurl.com/ntj2q7g I think they would love to hear from you. There are also many other charity ideas on this site.

      I’ve deleted the other comments but saved your words. I can send you copies of what you wrote if you email me at: gina@ginaleftthemall.com

  13. Hey Gina, me and one of my girlfriends sat down yesterday and wrote 8 letters to our troops. We are going to do this once a week, write a lot of letters to our troops. I hope they enjoy what we said in our letters

  14. I have searched and searched and cant find how to write letters. Either you have to pay snd make donations or adopt a soldier for a long period. I am a wife and mother of 4 i want to help write letters but im not sure i can commit to 1 solder for months. Because i may drop off. How can i just send a hand written letter to a solder or solders in need?? Please help me.

    • Hi Patience,
      Thank you for reaching out. I think it’s great that you want to do this—especially since you are so busy! What may be a good fit for you is Operation Gratitude. They include a few letters in each care package that other volunteers put together. I am putting the link at the bottom. It has some basic instructions about what to write and things like “don’t include glitter” (a lesson I learned the hard way!). You send them the letter in an unsealed envelope and put that in a bigger envelope because they screen them (make sure there’s nothing hurtful or hateful) You don’t have to join, pay, or commit for a long period of time. I hope this works out for you and thank you for your kindness!

      https://www.operationgratitude.com/writeletters/

  15. Pingback: How To Be A Penpal To A Soldier In Afghanistan | Information

  16. If I want to write a letter and I’m not in a charity but I want to write and let on of our US soldiers know that someone is thinking about them how can I do that?

  17. you inspired me. i joined anysoldier and have two groups i’m writing to and sending christmas love and appreciation. keep up the good work!

      • just packed 5 boxes to one group and 2 boxes to the smaller group! whew! 2 young ladies helped me shop and took the panic out of it for me. packing the boxes and writing the cards i did alone. very moving experience for me. thanks for getting me to think about this and then do something.

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