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

A Sailor Wrecks My Indifference

Life-Changing Event wasn’t my plan that morning. We had no plans. But the USS Intrepid had a plane with shark teeth, my 4-year-old daughter was in a “shark phase” and that’s how we found ourselves on a flight deck.

Sofia (the 4-year-old) wanted to leave immediately because flight decks are hot. On August 16, 2009, a sweltering NYC day made it “super hot.” Instead, I took her to the air-conditioned lower deck.  One exhibit had a film playing about the ship. We had missed most of it, so I pulled her away. But with pre-K mega-strength, she dragged me back.

The Sailor

I stood there watching black and white footage of the ship being attacked. I sensed the man to my right moving closer. I turned towards him and he said, “I was there that day. I was there.” Then he turned back to the screen and stared intently. He was an elderly gentleman wearing ID badges that said Former Crew Member and Plank Owner.

When the film ended, he walked away to talk to a few people. At that point, I had no idea that walking up to someone in the military and personally thanking them was something people did. I didn’t know anyone in the military. I never ran into troops. But I said to Sofia, “do you see that man over there? He did something brave on this ship that helped protect us. I want you to go say thank you”

Pre-Wreck

Sofia started buzzing around the group trying to get this Sailor’s attention. He kept talking to the adults. I thought to myself that this was a mistake. Retract!! Retract!!

But after a few long minutes he finally said very loudly and with mock exasperation, “Yes, little girl…what can I do for you?” Just as loudly, Sofia replied, “Thank you for being brave on the boat! I like your boat!!!”

Everyone stopped talking. His eyes filled with tears. His wife became teary. So did the others with them. I walked over to see what was wrong and his wife said to me under her breath, “Thank you for her words. You have no idea how much they mean. This is the last time he can visit the ship. This is his last time here.”

Then It Hit Me

As we walked away I started thinking about my Mom. She’s from the Philippines and if it wasn’t for American G.I.s, she might not be here, then I wouldn’t be here and Sofia wouldn’t be here. And I don’t remember thanking a single one of those thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen.

So that night I went home, did some research, and adopted a U.S. Soldier who was deployed to the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. I never imagined where that first step would lead me.

My adopted soldier's Combat Outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan

My adopted soldier’s combat outpost in the mountains of Afghanistan.

© Gina left the mall, 2012