October 9, 2011

The More Likely Explanation

A ladies' organization in our town is collecting letters to send to a unit of soldiers overseas. I've contributed a few cards, because I've seen the pleas in the paper and it's increasingly clear to me that the people collecting the letters are making a strong connection between "number of letters collected" and "whether anyone could care less whether these soldiers live or die," and are getting themselves very upset about the town's apparent lack of feeling/caring, and I'd like to help alleviate that. But they've failed to take into account the more likely explanation in situations like this (where one group is begging another group to take action but failing to get the desired response), which is that people care very much whether the soldiers live or die, but don't think the letter-writing thing is such a great idea.

I'm in that group, as you have cleverly surmised. If I knew a soldier overseas, I would BOMBARD him or her with letters. But I suspect anonymous letters from strangers to "Any Soldier" are less heartening/pleasing---especially when the letters are wrung from a public being pressured to send them. "Here, we've bought the cards, and we're paying the postage! All you have to do is sign your name to one of them! You don't even need to write anything! You don't even have to use your real name!!"

I'm also remembering back when I was in high school and got involved with a big Christmas-cards-to-soldiers campaign. I sent out a whole bunch of cards, and I got a whole bunch of replies, and almost every single reply took the conversation in a sexual direction right away---sometimes for pages and pages. One guy, after a couple of letter exchanges (mine: prim Christian schoolgirl persevering in my earnest attempt to bring homefront comfort to soldiers; his: continuing to ask about the color of my underwear and what size bra I wear) said that they had a bet going among the soldiers in his building to see who could get a woman to mail a pair of underpants first.

That's the sort of thing that sticks in my mind when I imagine writing a letter to build up the morale of a soldier. It's the sort of thing that makes me think a pile of earnest floral notecards from middle-aged women is a waste of everyone's good intentions---and possibly the kind of sepia-toned fantasy (homesick upstanding young man reading letter by lantern in army tent; the music swells as we see the tears beginning to shine in his eyes; he fights on with a renewed sense of the love of the homefront he yearns to protect) that shouldn't be indulged. So although I filled out a few cards to please the people collecting them, I also went out and bought Twizzlers, Skittles, a Best of Saturday Night Live DVD, foot powder, lip balm, instant energy-drink powder, an electronic Solitaire game with batteries, floss, pens, and baby wipes, to please the actual soldiers. (Though I did not include a pair of underpants THIS time, EITHER.) It's possible these things, too, will be wrong: as I was shopping I was wondering if maybe they already get lip balm and foot powder easily, and if they have whole video game systems and don't really need a primitive handheld. I think this is why it works better to mail things to people we know, who can tell us what they need/want. But either way, these things will please the people trying to do nice things for the soldiers, the ones who are nervous that lack of response to their idea means bad things.


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23 comments:

elckd said...

It seems like you DO know what they want though! Based on past experience - buy a bunch of tiny little thongs, spray them with perfume, and send them anonymously. I'd like to do it just to see the look on the "Ladies Group" faces =)

jennie w. said...

There is a really fantastic service called Ask Any SOldier (at anysoldier.com). It helps match up soldiers who need things to people back home who'd be willing to help out. They list things that their whole platoon needs (some soldiers are way off the grid and rarely get supplies).

My kids draw funny pictures to send along like "Tent Sweet Tent". We go to the store and buy all the supplies then spend a day making care packages and going to the post office. A lot of times we'll send things to the female soldiers who humbly ask for things like tampons. How sad is it that our servicewomen have to ask for those?

I like helping soldiers who really have needs and I know how to best help them.

Swistle said...

Jennie W.- What a great idea. That pleases me tremendously, to think of being able to send things that are the very things that are needed and wanted.

HereWeGoAJen said...

We used to do a soldier program too where they sent in requests until it went out of business. I agree though, I am not sure a card from a stranger is actually that useful. I wonder if there is anyone who has personal experience who could tell us? Eh, maybe we all should just buy a bunch of women's underwear.

Anonymous said...

I live Jennie W's link. Unfortunately, not every soldier gets mail or has someone at home willing to write or send things. Many people joint the Army because they are trying to escape their homelife.

Crystal said...

I'm going to follow Jennie W's link! Awesome!
Also, I watched a documentary filmed by a brother (film maker by profession) of his two brothers who are soldiers. The guys told him they are desperate for entertainment. Yes, loads of them have DVD players and gaming systems but they quickly run out of new stuff. One group, and this cracked me up, were hanging on the edges if the sofa to find out how the last season of The O. C. ended! That is what someone sent over, their used copies on DVD and they didnt care that it was dated teenage soap opera. So, find something used or on sale and send some decent show like The Wire or LOST or something.

jen(melty) said...

it makes me sad to think that not all these soldiers presumably have a loved one at home that sends them stuff already, that there shouldn't have to be an organization to take it upon themselves to do so.

JeannetteLS said...

I think the other commenters and you have said it all. I responded to a request for people to send in their name and something about them, and they'd match us up to write to a soldier. No one wanted letters from me, and I was not surprised. But that web site sounds terrific. I think nowadays it is so easy for people to decide that if one does not respond to soldiers, to bullying, to ANY phenomenon or situation in the public eye in one particular way, then that person is either unpatriotic, insensitive, or stupid.

I've never read an entry that so honestly discussed this particular topic. Thanks--now I have someplace to check out where I might actually be able to make a difference to a soldier or two.

Stephanie Sharples Francis said...

Yep, pretty much everything you said is right on. Letters from strangers are thoughtful, but they do much more for the writers than the receivers as a general rule. And your insight on the distinction between people who do care but don't think the letter writing is a good idea was most likely exactly right.

And it's tough to know what to send in a general package. The link above is great, and I do find it much easier to know someone specific (my husband) to know what to send. Usually he says that there is always someone who will use/want something/everything out any care packages.

Even though he's my husband, I STILL have a hard time putting together care packages for him, even just a couple months in. I don't like sending the same stuff over and over but my creativity dries up. :)

Sounds like you sent a great package that will bring a lot of smiles though. Seriously--all of those things will be appreciated and used.

Unknown said...

I had a bf that went on 2 tours in Fallujah, and what you said was pretty mucch spot on. The letters were discarded (some soldiers would respond to children though), and the fun little things that were sent were out on a big table for all to grab...starting with highest ranks and going down from there. I think they were appreciated but not like they should be IMO. Kind of like high school kids feeling entitled to stuff instead of appreciating the thoughtfulness that was intended. I guess it makes sense as many are just out of school, but it still kind of irritated me.

Anonymous said...

I think the things you chose to send are spot on. The only other thing I can remember was socks, believe it or not.

DomestiKook said...

I occasionally send letters to soldiers, but I totally feel your frustration. The last care package I sent went to my ex in Afghanistan. I sent him oreos, teddy grahams, clove cigs (his request) newspapers, hand goo ( he was a mechanic) and various other sundries. I know whatever you send is always appreciated.

Nik-Nak said...

I have never written a random soldier a letter for the exact reason you stated, it doesn't seem heartfelt when you don't know who it is coming from. But your box of things? Brilliant. If I was overseas and got a box filled with those things id kill over with happiness so job well done!

Jana said...

We adopted a soldier through a similar site as the one another commenter posted and it definitely helps to know what specific things he wants. His family doesn't send him anything (which brings me to tears whenever I think about it) so he is really appreciative of the things we send (chips, candy, toothbrushes, books, DVDs, etc.). Also, I'm perfectly fine with his passing on anything he doesn't want or need; I'm fairly certain no 19 year old boy cares about a book of crossword puzzles, but someone he knows might.

Sarah said...

I totally totally agree with everything you said. That is all.

Pickles and Dimes said...

Last year, we sent packages based on things requested from Ask Any Soldier, too. You basically "adopt" a platoon and send items based on their needs. We found one that had people from MN in it, so it seemed a little more personal. We tried to think of things to send as if we were camping - but without any of the basic things we have, like water or electricity. So we sent a LOT of batteries, beef jerky, puzzle books and pens, feminine hygiene products (the request specifically said those items were highly desired), wet wipes, decks of cards, some hard candy, a few magazines, slipper-socks, and lots of little toiletry items like nice lotion, shampoo, soap, etc. (The group we adopted had a lot of women in it.) I think we sent a total of 4 packages. It was a lot of fun and we plan on doing it again this year.

M.Amanda said...

My brother served two tour in Iraq. He has a huge sweet tooth and the thing he loved getting the most was candy, specifically Starburst. Not only did he eat tons of it, but he competed in a contest to see which soldier could make the longest Starburst wrapper rope by folding them into a kind of chain. That seems like a much more harmless way to occupy slow times than the no-rules wrestling matches they had.

Jill said...

I think the things you sent will definitely be put to use. As others said, what they will use depends on where they are and what they have access to. I have Marine friends who have lived in Afghanistan with Playstations and internet in their barracks, and Army family who have been there with only occasional access to a computer to Skype with family. My husband is currently deployed in the Navy with no mailing/emailing/phone access whatsoever, so I had to send him boxes of things I thought me might like before he even left. I also included handheld games and the like, because I think no matter how unexciting something may seem to us, when you are in the desert/under the ocean/away from technology for that many months at a time anything new will have some sort of appeal to it, even if it will just be passed along sooner or later.
From a military wife, thanks for thinking of our guys over there. (And I will also say that I have sent tampons to a male family member overseas with instructions to get them to whoever needs them. Uncomfortable for him? Maybe, but I know the female soldiers appreciate the thought.)

Jessica said...

It really bothers me when people assume if you don't contribute to their cause (monetarily or otherwise) you're *anti* their cause.

Anonymous said...

So what color undies did you send ;)

twisterfish said...

I love this group... they send packages often to the soldiers that don't get mail from home. Treats and baked goods and something to put a smile on their face. http://www.asmilefortroops.com/
No thongs.

Superjules said...

Oh I'm so glad someone came up with the anysoldier web site and that jennie w. posted it! It actually makes someone like me, who has NO IDEA where to start or what to send or who to send things to or what to say, able to actually do this. It makes me happy when helping is straightforward and (relatively) easily accomplished. But, yeah, I agree with what you said on twitter-- I also wish the anysoldier requests could be filtered by level of pitifulness.

Buttercup said...

Swistle, the temptation to send an enormous pair of polyester granny panties would have been too much for me.

Thanks for the links, y'all. I'll be trying them out.