At Jan's suggestion, I am going to share with you about my family's choice to "adopt" and support a soldier and her unit in Iraq. I've hesitated to talk about this much because of several reasons, but Jan suggested that talking about it might demonstrate how truly easy and so greatly appreciated it is, so here is our story.
Last April, we adopted a unit of soldiers that are actively serving in Iraq. Let me explain what I mean by that. We made the choice to pick a unit that we committed to supporting for as long as they were deployed. I went on the Any Soldier site and looked through their huge database of soldiers to find one we felt we could support.
How I Picked
First, I prayed. I’m not trying to sound religious. I’m telling you the truth. I wanted a unit we could make a difference with, one that would be blessed by our family and would appreciate our style of support. I knew the children were going to draw pictures, and we would send souvenirs from trips, and I wanted the Lord to bless someone with those and not give them to someone who would think they were goofy.
Second, I knew I would be the primary contact on behalf of our family, so I decided to find a female soldier in a troop with other females. I thought I could figure out what they might like more than I might could a male. So I looked up troops based on number of females. Next, I narrowed my search by determining the size of troop we could support. We cannot support 50 or 100 people, but we could support 10-15.
The next round of requirements was quirky. “Lord, show me something that means something to me.” I found PFC Kathryn Muller. Kathryn means grace. It was going to be the name of our second daughter if we had one. Muller is the last name of a friend of mine from high school who was a highlight of the last years of my dad’s life. My friend had indeed graced us in his love for and friendship with my dad, and the name connected to me emotionally. As it turned out, her unit had 10 women and 10 men. I decided we could do that, and I requested her address.
I had to consider what we were willing to commit to in this endeavor. I decided we would send a letter each week and a package once a month. The package would include something for all of them. Some weeks I write more, and some months we send more, but that was the minimum I wanted to do. Let me reiterate, this is our chosen level of commitment. If you choose to support a soldier, it can be a one time letter, card, or package. ALL support means so much to them. Don’t let what a person or group does determine what you do. You do what God leads you to do.
As I said, I committed to writing weekly. I often get asked what I write about. Anything. Everything.
I’ve written about:
The children’s diving classes
My photos being published in Studio G
The zit under my nose that hurts every time I blow my nose (okay, I haven’t written about that, but I might if it isn’t gone before I write again)
The spider web at Lake Tawakoni
Playing in the sprinkler on the trampoline
The rain (that gave me LOTS to write about this year)
Mowing the yard
That I like to iron
The Water Gardens in Fort Worth
Ways God blesses me daily
A Day in the Life of a Domestic Diva (and, yes, I did mean me)—that was fun. I told them about scrubbing toilets, the fact that I prefer green cleaning things, the fact that my bathmat stuck to the floor and I had to hand scrub the tile to get the sticky off
Being up with Robert when he had respiratory problems
The peach tree collapse
Making peach preserves and the 3 hours it took to peel the peaches, and when we thought we were done, my mom and stepdad gave us more.
I’m not trying to be obnoxiously long here. I just want you to realize that my letters are as basic as our life is. I share the ups and downs. Things that seem horribly mundane to us are connections to home for them. To give you an idea of how much these simple letters mean, I got an email from PFC Muller, and she said:
“Jerri, we appreciate the packages, but it’s your letters. We love them. We put them on the board so people can read them when they come by and have time. It’s our connection to home, and I cannot tell you what they mean to us. Even the mundane to you is precious to us. Even if you can’t send packages, please keep sending the letters. And we love the papers the children send. Tell them to send all they want. You are our family, and we love you.”
Being the photographer that I am, I splatter the pages with pictures. Tonight I finished a 12 page letter (I’m like the marathon letter writer. 12 pages, and I haven’t even hit my 2nd wind. If you just drop a card in the mail that says, “I’m praying for you,” it’ll be just as good. The key is getting something in the mail). I put in a huge amount of pictures. The text was maybe half of the letter. The rest was the pictures that go with our stories. Pictures of home are precious to our soldiers. It keeps them in contact and grounded emotionally. That brings up another thought….
The pictures I put in my letters vary as much as the content. I have put in pictures of:
Robert’s feet splashing in a water puddle
Webs of webworms
Whatever was on my camera at the moment. I have even found pictures from last winter about the ice storm we had and told the story about it just because I know it is special to them. (Plus, when you are in 110-120 degree heat, pictures of snow and ice might be a mental boost.) During the spring the children and I walked around the neighborhood with all of our cameras snapping pictures of any kind of flower that had the boldness to show its petals, and we sent the pictures over so the unit could have Spring in Iraq.
Pictures are not required, but if you want to stick them in, they are really appreciated.
There are some legal rules on care packages, and some common sense ones, too, but mostly, if you want to send it, they would like to get it. Things we’ve sent:
Flip flops (you can imagine what the cashier thought when we bought 12 pair of large women’s flips flops and 12 pair of large men’s flips flops, but it probably wasn’t nearly as interesting as those folks walking by us while we had them all laid out on the floor trying to make sure no two pair of flips flops were exactly alike)
Baby powder (sweating can cause chaffing. Baby powder helps)
Odor absorbers (the men’s barracks evidently smells similar to a junior high boys’ locker room. Well, it did before the odor absorbers)
Soap ( scented for the ladies, plain for the gentlemen)
One soldier got water guns from someone, and he raved about them.
Another soldier told how he loved envelopes from one particular family because they always had packets of Kool Aid in them.
When we send something over, we always try to include hard candy and gum. Chocolate melts in the heat right now, but the sugar boost from hard candy and gum can be really good on hot missions.
We also send lots of magazines. One day I was at our dentist’s office, and I asked what they were going to do with their magazines. Toss them. I explained about our soldiers and asked if I could have the magazines to send to Iraq. The first month or two, we had 8-10 magazines. Now all the employees save their magazines, and we have two full boxes each month, so we send the candy and gum in another box.
Another big question is how do we send the packages. The post office has free “one rate” boxes. They are perfect. In one shipment of 3 boxes, we saved over $30 in shipping by using the one rate boxes. Plus, the sizes are perfect. You need to fill out a customs form, but that takes only a few minutes. It is suggested that you not send homemade food because the soldiers are told not to eat it because no one really knows who you are. That is a small limitation though.
We added a little humor to our boxes. We took 23 Texas postcards, and we put a different joke or riddle on each one. Each person got to pick a post card. That gave everyone 23 new jokes to tell and laugh about.
Jan sent a birthday card, and as it turned out, there were 4 people with a birthday, and they all shared the card.
And several of our ideas came from reading other soldiers’ posts and seeing what they needed, so if you want ideas, just peruse the postings.
What It Isn’t
This isn’t a penpal deal. I’ve written PFC Muller every week since April. Due to her unit’s geographic position, I only receive emails every 6-10 weeks, and they are only a paragraph long to let me know they are safe and comment on a few things from the letters. The reality is you may never have a response from the soldier you support, but you can either accept that and continue support OR choose a different soldier.
What It All Comes Down To
There are no “rules” for supporting a soldier through Any Soldier. Even if you don’t want to send letters or packages, reading the profiles give you an idea of how to pray, and you’ll see that many of them will tell you prayer is the greatest thing we can give them.
I will gladly answer any questions I can if you email me or leave a comment, but I have to go right now, though, because I finished a letter to PFC Muller before starting this. There were so many pictures that my computer and printer nearly wigged out while transferring the data. It’s done printing now, though, and I need to get it ready for the mail tomorrow.
The only other thing I can tell you is our family has been so blessed by the chance to support these people who are fighting this war. I thank God we have the chance to do that, and for whatever we give, we believe we've gotten it all back and then some.