Military life can be both miserable and rewarding. The reward comes from working with great people on great teams accomplishing great missions. The misery comes from austere locations, uncomfortable situations, and separation from loved ones.
One thing that makes every aspect of military life more bearable is the ability to keep in touch with friends and family. But many times, the only way to connect is through the mail.
When I was a recruit, going through my initial military training, I got mail just like everyone else did. It was simultaneously the best and worst time of the day:
- Best – because it was my connection to the outside world, the world that didn’t include drill instructors and smelly recruits;
- Worst – because there was very little time to read and enjoy the stories, jokes, and gossip sent by friends and family.
It was the same for everybody. Mail was our escape. It was our sanity check. It gave us hope that there was life after recruit training.
For some, mail call brought snacks that they couldn’t keep.
For others, it meant envelopes soaked in perfume or really crafty, artistic packages…which invariably led to some ‘gentle’ ridicule from the instructors.
Some got great news, like the birth of a child.
Others got horrible news, like the death of a parent.
Now matter how you look at it, mail call was (and is) how recruits stayed connected with the important people and events in their lives. And it was all the more important during the holidays.
The mail I got at basic left a lasting impact on me.
Specifically, in the letters from my dad I received something far more precious than anything I’d ever requested for a birthday or for Christmas.
Something more valuable than a lesson on how to throw or catch, more timeless than a lesson on fishing.
What my dad sent to me during my three months of boot camp was powerful, wonderful, mysterious.
In his letters to me my father wrote of how proud he was of the man I was becoming. He told me how much he loved me. He wrote about how confidently he believed that no matter what obstacles I faced in life, I could overcome and succeed.
Through his letters, my dad gave me permission to be strong, to win, to lead. I became a better recruit, and ultimately a better warrior because of those letters.
“My father gave me the greatest gift…he believed in me.”~Jim Valvano
Thanks for believing, Dad. And thanks for writing.
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