In our NFTT quest for dollars (convertible into truly awesome care packages for the troops), one essential component of any truly complete package has missed the spotlight, until today.
Letters, at least the postage stamp variety, seem to be increasingly considered a convention of the past. Modern reinventions of the old fashioned letter, such as texting, email, even facebook and the sort of blogging we do here, now reign supreme in many of our lives.
Many deployed men and women share in the boon of these advances. American military bases in Iraq are populated by countless internet cafes, run by their mustachioed Turkish and Kurdish proprietors, when they aren't managed outright by American subcontractors. But there is an interesting duality to their digital lives. In Iraq, to a soldier, letters still matter.
Letters From Home
Mail call is a particularly important time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Letters are treasured. And like boxes, a few soldiers get a lot, a lot get a few, and some, unfortunately, get none.
Letters received during the course of a war become, by their very nature, personal relics. I still have mine, they are neatly collected among the other odds and ends I have saved. They represent an important chapter in my life. They are worth, to me, very much more than the paper they are written on, or the ink that they were written with. They embody a time, an event, and in some small way they are tangible historical footnotes. I am sure that at some point in the future I will reread them, and they will cause me to remember things that I have already forgotten. I am sure that at some point my daughter will find them, and she will read them.
It it in these ways, and many others, that personal letters written to soldiers during time of war are among the most valuable donations one can make. I would urge anyone that has donated to NFTT, or to any similar charity, to consider writing one.
That all being said, I know that to many people writing a letter is not the easiest or most comfortable proposition in the world. What to write? What is appropriate? It's a big question mark, but believe me when I say it doesn't have to be. Perhaps the only time when it is really, truly acceptable to write about just about damn near anything is when you are writing to a deployed man or woman in uniform.
I received short, to the point letters/cards simply wishing me thanks or safety. I received long, multi page ramblings about people I would never know (Were they all talking about the same nutty "Grandma"???). I received pictures drawn by kindergarteners, and classroom greetings by middle schoolers. Each was different, and each was completely, one hundred percent perfect.
So What Do I write?
Let's take it step by step.
First, how do you address someone you don't know? That's the easiest part. Sappy or bland, it's all up to you. Dear Hero, Dear Warrior, Dear Servicemember, etc. I wouldn't object if every letter sent to Iraq read, "Dear Soldier," but that's just my warped sense of humor (all apologies to the many fine Marines, Airmen and Sailors out there). =)
Next, what to actually write about? Here it is all up to you. What do you want to share? That'll work! Write about yourself, your family, the weather, your job, your day, your dog, your car, your hobbies, your town, personal or family military history, and on and on and on. If it is positive and upbeat, it's the perfect letter. I guarantee it.
The particulars are also up to you. A short greeting? That works. A long greeting? That's good too. The Epic of Gilgamesh? He or she may not be able to finish it until returning home, but it still works.
You can include a return address if you would like the recipient of your letter to be able to correspond back. It should not be expected, they aren't on vacation after all, but it leaves the possibility open. If you want, your note can be anonymous. I received a few of those and they were no less appreciated for the effort.
What Not To Write
There are more tips on what not to write than vice versa, and that's simply because of the open nature of the letters themselves. A few things to avoid:
- Don't use a letter to proselytize. It happens, a lot, and in most people's eyes it is terribly inappropriate.
- Try to avoid being unnecessarily negative. The people that will be receiving these letters count on them as brief positive moments in their otherwise dangerous, and fairly miserable lives. If they just got off a long patrol, just survived another rocket attack, or perhaps just lost a friend to a sniper or IED, believe me the last thing they want to hear about is your uncle who just died of a massive heart attack. Be positive, for their sake.
- And some things should seem to need no mention, but all too often they do: Avoid being overly negative of the wars themselves. Here's the thing: the person you are corresponding with possibly (even probably) agrees. But in their particular circumstances it is likely that he or she will feel like a dart board, or worse, feel blamed. Those are letters that nobody wants to receive. Even I, a staunch critic of the war while deployed, did not like to read critical commentary in a Dear Soldier letter.
So basically, be positive, be as serious or as whimsical as you like. Be yourself. I promise your letter will turn out just fine.
Item #5 in the Here's how you can help section (below) provides an email address for sending letters to be included in NFTT 2009 care packages.
Our goal for Netroots For The Troops 2009 is $50,000.00 (cash or in-kind donations).
We realize that you would like to donate something tangible to go inside the packages that will be mailed to the troops. Unfortunately, accepting in-kind donations from individuals is not practical in terms of storage and handling of the items. The Pittsburgh Convention Center is a union shop so we have more stringent rules that need to be followed. Instead, we will only be accepting corporate donations or cash from YOU to purchase items for the care packages this year.
Here’s how YOU can help:
- Please contact TexDem or VeloVixen if you know someone who might be helpful in securing the corporate in-kind donations. To help you think of companies who could donate products, see below* for a list of potential items. Put your thinking caps on and let us hear from you. It takes time to get through the corporate processes so we need to hear from you ASAP!
- We are accepting cash from individuals and
begask that you DONATE HERE to contribute to this worthy cause. Your donation will enable us to purchase the things that we are unable to obtain through corporate donations, and will help to pay the costs of shipping them to our troops. This year your donations will be tax deductible, thanks to Netroots Nation and their partner Netroots Arts and Education Initiative, a California 501(c)3 corporation.
- Sign up for a diary! Our goal is to post two diaries per day until NN09. That’s a lot of diaries! Don’t worry---we’ve made it easy for you. We’ve got a template set up, and all you need to do is add a small introduction telling us why you are donating, sharing a story of someone you know who has served or is serving, or any other thing you want to share that might help motivate others to donate. Please contact politik if you are interested in posting a diary.
- Do you know a service member who would like to receive a care package? Email a request to: NFTT.firstname.lastname@example.org before July 31, 2009.
Please include all of the following information. Unfortunately we will not be able to process any incomplete requests:
APO Address Line 1:
APO Address Line 2:
APO Address Zip:
- Write letters to be included in the packages! Our own jlms qkw is collecting the letters and will print them out and bring them to Pittsburgh. Just email your letter to her email@example.com. Look for more information from jlms qkw soon.
- Help us assemble the packages in Pittsburgh. It's fun! More information will be forthcoming for those of you who are going to be in Pittsburgh and would like to help there.
- Please consider joining the NFTT FaceBook Group. Invite your FaceBook and non-FaceBook friends.
*The following list contains some of the things we would like to include in the packages. Please let us know if you know someone who might be helpful in securing these corporate in-kind donations. (Please DO NOT send these items yourself! We have no way to accept them. Instead, your cash donation is the very best way to help make this happen on the ground in Pittsburgh.)
- Baby wipes
- Mechanix gloves
- Language translation books or CDs (Rosetta Stone as an example)
- LED flashlights
- Gel shoe insoles
- Goop Cleaning Gel
- Powdered energy drinks
- Gel energy food packets
- DVDs and CDs
- Letters to the soldiers
- More suggestions coming soon
Books for Soldiers
Soldiers love to receive books, but due once again to the logistics of collecting and storing them prior to NN09, books will not be included in the packages that NFTT will put together this year. Other organizations are more specialized in the collection and distribution of books to Iraq and Afghanistan. If you are interested in sending books, please consider checking out the Books for Soldiers Website. It is run by DKos's very own StormBearand is a great resource for giving.
Important Note about Successful Online Donations
PLEASE DONATE HERE
When you make your online donation, the screen indicates that you are donating to Netroots Nation. This is the right screen! Rest assured all donations WILL go to NFTT. If you wish, feel free to use the comment area provided to note that your donation is intended for Netroots For The Troops. It isn’t necessary to do this however, as this is the only fundraising activity being conducted for Netroots Nation at this time. For further information about online donations, please read TexDem's diary on the subject.