A letter is a great morale booster

News item: NBC News reported that on March 13, troops overseas were just beginning to receive Valentine’s Day cards from home.

Americans may be sharply divided on the issue of whether or not the United States should attack Iraq, but there is one subject we all agree on the need to support the men and women who are serving in the military in overseas locations. They are, after all, merely following orders, sure in the belief that their sacrifices are necessary and in the national interest.

There are many ways we can express our support for the troops, but the most important is regular first-class mail. A letter from a family member, a loved one or a friend will brighten the face of even the most battle-weary soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Among other things, the letter provides a connection to home and reminds the individual that others care about his or her welfare.

There are, however, some tokens from home that are unwelcome, usually because they clog the mail system or, in some cases, even put troops at risk. Cakes, cookies and other food items are a particular problem. Since these items tend to be heavy (by mail standards), they are sent by sealift rather than by airlift, and additional postage on the package will not change that fact. The packages may spend a month or more in the hold of a cargo ship where they will get stale, moldy or infested with insects. When they finally arrive at their destinations, troops often just toss them aside.

Food items addressed to “any soldier or sailor” can actually be dangerous to the troops, since anyone can introduce such parcels into the mail system, including persons who might have a grudge against the United States. I and most other company commanders in Vietnam instructed postal clerks to intercept packages of unknown origin and consign them to the trash pit. Any officer who did not follow such a policy was exposing his troops to needless risk.

Other unwelcome items include small junk items (deodorant, fingernail clippers, foot powder, etc.) that are not needed or wanted by the troops. Like food parcels, these items take up room in mailbags and delay the delivery of first-class letters. A neighborhood correspondent for this newspaper recently suggested that schoolchildren buy items at the Dollar Store and mail them in boxes to our overseas troops. I would suggest that they instead send cards, letters, poems and photographs.

So let’s support our troops overseas with upbeat, sincere maybe even patriotic letters from home. Remind those young men and women that we appreciate their efforts, that they are always in our thoughts, and that we all pray for their safe return.

Gary Jacobsen lives in Woodbridge.

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