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Not everybody knows that everything they do makes a difference in someone’s life. A smile could be the difference between life and death, a hurtful comment could be enough to push someone over the edge. If everyone knew how their actions affected others, I get the feeling that this world would be run differently.
I remember in sixth grade when we were assigned to do eight hours of community service. There were some groans of disappointment I’m sure, but most of the girls were excited to go work in an animal shelter, or help out at a Vet’s office. OUr social studies teacher handed out the paper with suggestions for what to do. They all seemed like good ideas to help others, but none of them really stood out to me. They all seemed like too much of a commitment. I remember going home that day and talking to my mom about the “stupid assignment”, or thats what I thought it to be at first.
“Why don’t you write letters to soldiers?” I remember her asking me. I thought about it for awhile, and I decided that it would be much less of a commitment than the other ideas I had! I could write the letters on my own time, and send a package once a month. I was so caught up in my own life, that I was looking for the easy way out on this assignment. My mom and I researched different programs, and decided upon Soldiers’ Angels. We read the requirements: One letter a week, and one package a month. My self-centered brain thought it sounded easy enough.
The first time writing I felt really uncomfortable, it was actually really hard. I had no idea what to say. All I knew was that I was writing to a woman named Kendell, and that she was a sergeant posted in Iraq. I did not know anything about her life. I did not really even understand war, or what happened over there. I did not realize that everyday she risked her life for us, that she was there for me. I started out very plain, boring even, “Dear SGT. Kendell, Hi my name is Kenzie. I am in 6th grade, and I live in Minnesota. There is 5 people in my family, and I have two dogs.” I told her the basics of my life, the names of my best friends, and what sports I do. At the end of each letter, I always included a “thank you for all you do for us.” I don’t think I really knew what it meant, or that there was actually a real person reading this, posted in Iraq. I did not realize that everyday she wonders if she will ever see her family again.
I remember the first time we went shopping for a gift; I had no idea what to buy. I knew that she did not have as much access to everything we did here. I cannot remember all the gifts we ended up getting her, but I do remember getting her cookies one time. They were from Country Cake Cupboard, a local bakery. We got her plain chocolate chip ones, monster ones, minty leaves, and many more. I told my mom it was a stupid gift to buy, they were just cookies, nothing special. Little did I know just how much she appreciated them.
With every letter I began to feel more comfortable talking to Kendell. I kept a green bucket, a beach bucket with a white handle, sitting on my desk. Bright colored markers filled the bucket to the brim, and those were what I always used to write the letters. I still did not really think I was doing anything, just be telling her about my life. I talked about my dogs often, and told stories of what happened at school. I also told of trips I had taken, and what we did. I knew that she did not get the luxury of even the most basic of things, so sometimes I felt like I was bragging. To a normal person, it would not have been bragging, they would have been having the same experiences I was having. But Kendell was not normal, she was in the army.
I never expected to get anything back from her. Maybe I was hopeful, but I knew how unlikely it was. She had so much to do, and she was already giving me something - freedom. Yet one day in late March, I came home to a package by our front door. It was addressed to me, which does not happen very often. It was in a brown package, with lots of rips. I had not ordered anything, and I had absolutely no idea what it could be. Bringing it inside, I set it on the table and saw a mailing label. It was from Iraq! I ripped it open, and inside there were two things: a stuffed animal and a letter. There was a dog with brown and white sports. On it there was a bright yellow bandana saying “Love from LSA Kuwait.” I hugged it for awhile, and then turned to the letter. I opened it, to find it was six pages long.
I’m not sure how long it took me to start crying. It was not long, that’s forsure. She remembered everything I told her, she asked me questions about even the littlest of things. She told me that she sent the stuffed animal dog because of how much she enjoyed hearing about mine. She told me how exciting it was to get cookies from me, because they do not get them very often over there. She said she shared them with all her friends, and they were very thankful. I had never thought about it before until now, but those cookies must have been stale by the time they got there.
In the entire six page letter, she did not complain once. Not when she talked about how she was a Hummer driver, often the first truck in the line. She explained how they had to wear these army uniforms, but did not complain about how hot they made her. I learned how she was supposed to have gone back from 7 months prior, but she had been retained and forced to stay longer.
This letter meant the world to me. I cried, and the tears were for her. I may never experience the war firsthand, or ever have my husband go over there. But I did experience it through Kendell, and it was really hard for me. The way that she did not complain, it amazed me. She was so appreciative of what I was doing for her, I was so surprised. I had tried to take the easy way out, and I learned so much from it. Just writing letters was not longer just writing letters. It had a new meaning entirely.
The end of her letter told me how she was finally going back home, and I was so happy for her. The pain, anguish, terror and joy I felt for someone I had never met, and never will, changed me forever. I will always be thankful for what I have, and although sometimes I may forget, I can always look at that stuffed animal I named Kendell, and remember.
Within the three years since, I have lost the letters. I cannot believe it happened, and every time I think about it I am filled with regret of not taking better care of them. I never got to thank Kendell, my last letter was sent back here, with a note saying she had gone back. She had given me her army email address, but when I tried to email her I got a message back saying it had been cancelled. This experience was amazing. I had helped her and me. I had given her hope, when she had very little. She said that every week she looked forward to my letter, because they were so cheerful, and filled with bright colors. Exactly what I had wanted! I learned that I was so well off here, and that I complained over really stupid things. She changed my life, with just one letter, which is what I said was no big deal, or a little commitment. This letter made me so happy, which I never thought could happen. I was wrong.