Week 21: Adopting a Soldier and Thanking our Troops
According to the US Department of Defense (DOD), there are currently over 1.3 million men and women on active military duty and more than 450,000 of those are stationed overseas. Many of these service members are assigned to perform training exercises and other duties at bases where they are pretty safe. These troops are ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice to wherever in the world they are needed. Some troops have been deployed to conflict zones like Iraq or Syria and others to potential hotspots like Niger or Somalia.
Going about my life, I was generally aware of the deep sacrifices of the brave men and women in our military, but it was not in the forefront of my daily life as a civilian. It was not something I thought about regularly but would be reminded of during national holidays, or by news stories, or when I saw military men and women in shops and restaurants. At those times I happily set up drives to send packages and letters to the troops, would pay for the bill at the restaurant and remember to be thankful for the amazing sacrifices and service of these brave, young Americans. But in between those pop-ups of awareness, I moved about my busy life’s daily activities – with the lives and challenges of our active duty service members and their families fading into a distant memory. I wanted something more. I thought about my two cousins who actively served in the Military. I’d never spoken with either of them about their training or deployments or the impact on their families. It was a missed opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding and to express my gratitude. What I wanted was a consistent way to keep our troops in mind and to give thanks to them. So I did some research.
Let’s not forget that our military is an all volunteer force. Those who chose to serve (and their families) willingly make the deep sacrifices that are required. I was surprised at some of the numbers I came across on the DOD website. 72% of active military are under the age of 30. Over 50% of active military are married. 40% of actively serving troops have children. Time away means missing holidays, birthdays and everyday life experiences with their families and loved ones. No matter where they are stationed, they are away from home and family and deployment can be lonely, hard and stressful.
One of my Facebook connections is a friend from High School who’s son joined the military about a year and a half ago. She’s been amazing in sharing her thoughts, feeling and photos of every step along the way – from her son’s enlistment to training to graduation to deployments… from visits to his bases to times he’s been able to come home. Her posts are filled with pride, love, encouragement and strength. There’s also worry and the ache of missing her son. It’s been truly humbling to have the opportunity to share that journey with her through her photos and posts and it’s helped me come to understand just a tiny glimpse of the sacrifices these soldiers and their families make. I reached out to her to ask about ways to get involved. She helped me research some organizations.
I chose Adopt-A-US-Soldier (AAUSS), a non-profit organization that connects civilians with deployed trips and offers a communication channel to express encouragement and gratitude to those serving in the US Armed Forces.
The organization is fully staffed by volunteers. It operates in over 170 countries and you have the option to either send a one-time care package to a military unit (called Project Frontlines) or to do a long-term adoption of a solider for the length of their deployment (approximately 6 – 12 months). I chose the long-term adoption, which meant I would be sending a weekly letter or postcard to my assigned soldier during his/her deployment.
While our troops receive regular contact from their families, receiving letters and care packages from perfect strangers reminds our troops they are loved and appreciated by all of society. Plus, troops miss the comforts and little things that make home, home. Food and snacks that are not MREs (like cookies and brownies), games to pass time, clean socks, paper and pens to write home, Chapstick and more. Sending packages and letters is like sending them hugs and the comforts of home!
AAUSS has helped thousands of soldiers find friendship, support and a much loved and needed touch of home. There’s no fee to be part of the program, but you can choose to donate to the organization and they will use the funds to grant unit requests for things like sporting equipment, hygiene products, snacks, etc.
You register with the organization through their website (link below) and they will match you up with a soldier who has requested an adoption. Depending on availability of soldiers, you may have to wait a bit to get assigned and then to receive their contact information.
I registered in October and was assigned a solder at the very beginning of November – just enough time for me to kick off my letters to him with a holiday gift box! My husband and I organized the gift and letter together and were sure to include photos of us and our family so our soldier would have faces to associate with our names.
When you register, you agree to write your solder once a week. That’s the basic agreement. Beyond that, you can choose to send care packages as often as you’d like. The soldiers have the option of connecting back with you if they choose. According to the website some do and some do not. We were not expecting to hear back (to us, our sending letters was enough), but sure enough we did get an email back from our soldier thanking us and telling us a little bit about himself.
Studies show that there is a strong correlation between the level of support a soldier receives while they are deployed and their ability to properly transition once they come home. It supports the families too, who know that their soldier is receiving hugs and support from others.
Since our first connection, we’ve exchanged a handful of emails and sent a few more gifts for him. When we can, we try to send enough for him to share with others in his unit. He’s been generous in emailing us notes when he can and we’re so thankful to have the opportunity to get to know him.
I am loving having regular time to sit and write to him because it really keeps our military in my mind. It’s been interesting to fill the letters with our daily goings-on. Not that our daily lives are interesting ;-)… what’s interesting is the enjoyment our soldier gets out of hearing about our boring, daily life! For him, our mundane experiences are another connection to home while he’s away. We are having fun planning what to send him and are looking forward to hearing more about him, his family and his time deployed.
Originally, I was not going to share this activity through my blog. We did not adopt a soldier so I could write about it, we did it because we genuinely want to support our troops. But, I receive lots of questions looking for ideas on how to get families with children involved in giving back, and from teachers asking for ideas for activities for classes, and I think adopting a soldier is a great way to do this! A family or class pen-pal which will bring a smile to our troops is a wonderful learning opportunity and chance to give back! So, I wanted to share my journey and spread the world about Adopt-A-US-Soldier.
You can read more about Adopt-A-US-Soldier and register to correspond with one of our troops through their website: http://www.adoptaussoldier.org/