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Her assignment was to write to a soldier. Little did she know her faith would help him stay strong. Their inspiring story is a very special one.
"Mom!" my 10-year-old daughter, Annie, shouted as she burst through the front door after school that fall afternoon nearly three years ago. "I just got a letter from a soldier!"
Annie's teacher had given them a project: Write a letter to a U.S. serviceman or woman in Iraq. Annie had worked hard on a big picture of a red, white and blue cat. On the bottom of the page she'd written, "Be safe, and thank you."
I'd cautioned Annie not to get her hopes up too much.
"There are a lot of soldiers over there," I told her. "And they're very busy. I'm sure they'll appreciate hearing from you, but you might not get an answer from them."
"That's okay, Mom," Annie had said. "It was fun making the picture."
Now Annie pulled the letter from her schoolbag and read it to me.
Hi, my name is Scott Montgomery. I am a sergeant in the South Carolina Army National Guard currently stationed in Kuwait. Two weeks ago in Iraq, on a mission just north of Baghdad, my truck was hit by a bomb. A piece of shrapnel struck me in the arm and I had to be rushed to the hospital. I had two operations and was feeling pretty sad. While I was recuperating, someone gave me an envelope addressed to a U.S. soldier. I found a beautiful handmade card from you. It brought a big smile to my face to know that a young girl in Indiana took the time to wish good luck to someone she doesn't even know. Thank you, Annie. You really brightened this soldier's day. I hope you get a chance to write back. Take care, Scott.
"That is so cool!" Annie said. She raced upstairs to show the letter to her sisters, while the words she'd just read echoed in my head. Kuwait. Baghdad. Trucks. Bombs. Shrapnel. The kinds of words I read everyday in the paper, along with another one: Casualties. I instantly liked the young man who had been thoughtful enough to write back to Annie—to make her feel so special. But to be honest, I was worried. My daughter was a sweet little fourth-grader. Her world was small and, I hoped, protected. Scott was a man in the middle of a war where people were getting maimed and killed. A conflict that adults argued about every day…on TV, the radio, even in our own church parking lot. The ugly realities of war were nearly everywhere. Did I really need to expose my 10-year-old to them? Wouldn't the world find her soon enough?
"She's going to grow up fast enough as it is," I said to my husband, Jim, that night. "War is the most horrible thing in the world. Does she have to learn about it now, when she doesn't even know that Santa's not real?"
"Look," said Jim. "We're the ones who taught the girls that we need to support the troops over there. Annie's just putting that idea into action. She can learn from this. It is scary, true. But you're never too young to do the right thing."
The next day after school, Annie showed me a letter she'd written to Scott. It was short, but I could see the work she'd put into it in every carefully lettered word.
Dear Scott, I'm in fourth grade. I'm in gymnastics 12 hours a week. I like SpongeBob and using my dad's computer to play office. Annie. "That's nice," I told her, and she sent the letter off.
Starting almost immediately, the first thing Annie did when she got home from school or gymnastics class was to check the mailbox. Three weeks passed. I figured Scott wasn't going to write back.
"Don't feel bad," I told Annie one afternoon following another fruitless check of the mailbox. "Scott's a soldier. He's got all kinds of things to think about over there. Writing you a letter right now might not be so easy for him.
"I know, Mom," Annie said, her voice upbeat as usual. "But I can still think he's going to write back. I can hope."