Hello! And belated Happy New Year to you and yours!
Today I would like to make a few comments about—writing. No surprise, right?
Well, when was the last time that you wrote to someone? No, not send an e-mail or an IM, but actually sat down and put pen to paper? Or pen to card? No, not just scribble your name in nearly unrecognizable cursive in an otherwise preprinted card, but when was the last time you actually wrote a short message in a blank notecard?
Not only does that sound old fashioned in the 21st century, but might it sound positively prehistoric?
But you know, there are times when handwritten letters and cards are very much appreciated and even looked forward to.
Way back in 2006-2007 I served in the Army National Guard, and I volunteered to deploy to Iraq. My unit, a company of Nevada and Maine volunteers within a Wisconsin battalion, deployed to a convoy support center a mile south of the Iraqi border on a SECFOR mission. Supply convoys coming up from southern Kuwait picked up escorting gun trucks at Navistar, and disappeared across the border for a day, two days, or a week or more. Sometimes we received word that the convoy was hit by IEDs, or that the gun trucks exchanged weapons fire with the insurgents. Sometimes nothing happened.
When the Soldiers returned from a mission tired, dirty, and hungry (they usually returned at night after being on the road for hours), one of the first questions on their mind was, “Is there any mail?”
The other two Soldiers and I in the Admin Section of the Company HQ also functioned as mail clerks. There was always a lot of mail coming in from family, relatives, friends, schools, and complete strangers; hand written letters, cards, and care packages (for example, when Valentine’s Day—hint hint—approached, the mail became a flood). We had a mail storage closet with shelves built on the front porch of Navistar, and posted the names of those who received mail every day.
Though mail call hours were posted, day or night we opened the closet when the Soldiers returned. Sometimes they carried the mail to their tents, sometimes they sat at the big wooden conference table on the front porch where morning meetings were held.
The Soldiers, some as young as 19 and as old as 59, wore big smiles as they opened their letters and cards. Sometimes they read the letters quickly, sometimes they re-read the letters; they studied photographs of their wives and girlfriends, their children, and passed the photographs around to each other. Sometimes they read a funny portion of the letter out loud to others. As soon as a package was opened and curious eyes looked, the Soldiers passed around the care packages so everyone could pick among the goodies.
In the impersonal age of e-mail and IM, someone took the time to write—repeat, write—a letter to the Soldier. Someone took the time to pen a few words in a card. If the Soldier was lucky, the letter or card might even have a dash of perfume to it—old fashioned yes, but a very nice touch. Okay, okay. I will say it. Sexy and romantic.
But someone took the time to make a communication very personal, through pen and paper, and that meant a lot to those Soldiers.
Never underestimate the impact of a handwritten letter, especially when a loved one is on the other side of the world at war. Never underestimate the impact of a handwritten letter received by someone ill, or down in the dumps, or someone who is on top of the world. The letter does not have to be a masterpiece of prose. It can be a big “HI!” followed by a smiley face.
So, who do you think you could write to, today?
BLURB: Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.
EXCERPT: “People like a happy ending.”Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.“What?”“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending. Especially now.”They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”The soldier looked once more at the black flag and then walked toward the shower and restroom trailers beyond which were the air-conditioned sleeping tents they called home…
Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot.” Ed. Joelle Walker. MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012.ISBN: 978-1-77127-078-6
SS Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, a published photographer and photojournalist, and a member of the Military Writers Society of America. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007). His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, MelangeBooks, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories inHorror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others. Second-career goals include becoming a painter and studying for a degree in photography and anthropology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology. After 12 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters. As of December 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Hampton officially became a homeless Iraq War veteran.
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