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

The Day I Got A Flag

I didn’t own a flag and then one day, a troop sent me one from a combat zone as a heartfelt, “thank you.” As July 4th approaches, and more flags adorn more places, I thought I’d share the story of how I got mine.

No outdoor space

I live in an apartment building in NYC. While some people do have yards or balconies, I do not. Hanging things outside your window, many stories above unsuspecting pedestrians, is frowned upon here more than large sodas. Living vertically means certain safety considerations. When I lived in the suburbs we had a flag on the porch. But the porch stayed with the house. When I crossed the city line, owning a flag never crossed my mind.

“You have a package from Afghanistan”

In my volunteer experience, emails are easy to exchange but letters are mostly from here to there. So if I got correspondence, “from the sandbox” I was very touched. On this particular day I was not only surprised to have a package, but by the contents as well.

At times, troops will have flags flown at bases or in this case, carried aboard aircraft, in honor of someone. It’s a way to say thanks. I never knew about this tradition until that day.

I had been pen pals with an Airman and before he came home, he decided to do this for me. It seems that sharing funny stories about my daughter Sofia and the care packages we sent had helped him through a difficult period and painful losses. But because he never shared what he was going through at the time, I had no idea how much the little things we did meant to him. Then I opened the box.

Flag flown in combat, in Afghanistan. Gift from an Airman.

When I held the flag in my hands I was very moved, thinking about where it had been and his reasons for sending it. Underneath it, I found this certificate. The words “combat mission” made something I know is serious and dangerous, seem even more real. And, as always, made me wish for an outbreak of world peace. Seeing the words, “for Gina and Sofia” also struck me. We were strangers that wrote to him through Soldiers’ Angels. Yet he and all the others, “do what they do” for people they love and for the vast majority of us that they do not know and will never meet.

flag certificate from combat zone

(names blurred for privacy)

Happy Independence Day

Beach, barb-b-que, red, white, & blue cupcakes, fireworks, I wish you a happy holiday whatever you’re doing. I also thank our troops everywhere for helping ensure we can celebrate our country’s birthday yet again. I thank them and their families for the freedom to enjoy days like this with our own families. And, while my flag still remains indoors, I’m very grateful to have it.

© Gina left the mall, 2013