Last weekend my husband Bill and I sat enjoying lunch at a local café. The place was abuzz with people chatting as they grabbed a bite to eat between errands and Saturday shopping. As I surveyed the crowd, a strange thought came into my head.
"What if we lived in Syria?" I said. Bill looked puzzled. "The people there live every day in fear and hunger," I added, thinking of the revolt raging in that country. "We're so lucky to live in a peaceful society where we feel secure." Bill nodded his agreement.
I was silent a moment, thinking.
"Did I tell you about the email I got yesterday?" I asked.
Bill shook his head.
I whipped out my Blackberry and began to read aloud.
The email had come to me via my website (www.adoptasoldier3id.com). Usually such messages are from grateful civilians who want to send letters and care packages to our troops who are deployed to Afghanistan. This message was different.
"Hello, I am a Soldier," the note began. "Two weeks ago I signed a card for the Adopt-A-Soldier program while at Hunter Army Airfield waiting to leave for Afghanistan.
"Thank you so much for your support of the troops," the message continued. "To a Soldier who never receives a letter or package from the states, it feels great to be thought of and cared for.
"I am that Soldier who has no one to show active support for me while I am here in Afghanistan. It is very lonely to be a deployed Soldier away from home and from those that you love. I have my husband, but he's never been a Soldier so he has no idea what it's like to be in my position, so I don't receive care packages or letters from him. I have friends, but they don't seem to have the time to show support.
"I appreciate the Adopt-A-Soldier program because I was 12 months in Afghanistan on my last deployment and absolutely no one supported me with letters or care packages and it was the loneliest year of my life. I look forward to any support I would receive through this program. Thank you very much."
Bill looked stricken.
"Don't worry, I've already found two sponsors for her,' I reassured him. "She'll be getting all the packages and letters she can handle."
But as soldiers of 3rd Infantry Division, based at nearby Fort Stewart, continue to fly out for Afghanistan, the stack of Adopt-a-Soldier cards grows. Every card bears the name, rank, and email address of a soldier who wants to be remembered while he or she is in combat for the next nine months.
They sacrifice more than we know to give us happy, heedless lunches at our favorite cafés, with the idea of a rocket exploding in our midst simply unthinkable.
Just how much they sacrifice was brought into sharp focus in December when a small unit of Fort Stewart soldiers returned from their tour in Afghanistan. As members of the 1-64 Armor Regiment marched across Cottrell Field during the homecoming ceremony, 16 of their severely wounded battle buddies joined them on the parade ground. They sat in wheelchairs or stood on crutches as their unit colors were unfurled.
After the crowd had dispersed, we headed toward our car. There on the sidewalk a soldier in a wheelchair was saying goodbye to a buddy. As the buddy walked away, I approached the soldier.
His left foot was hugely bandaged in white, his right leg from the knee down was encased in black. I bent and extended my hand, looking directly into his face.
"Thank you for what you did for us," I said quietly. He kept his eyes lowered. "You sacrificed a lot for our country and I appreciate it, because..." I paused and took a deep breath, steadying myself, "because you did it for me."
His eyes met mine. He grinned and lifted his hands off the wheels of the chair, gesturing widely with both arms.
"I did it for everybody," he said.
Such selflessness can never be repaid. But there's one thing we can do.
If you want to support a soldier in combat with care packages -- or even just emails and letters -- get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.