A soldier on active duty is faced with not just physical, but also emotional and mental challenges. For the sake of protecting their country and their people, military men are compelled to be separated from their own families for most of their lives.
Back when he was a U.S. Army brigadier, Vincent Buggs’ story was no different. He wasn’t used to being far away from home, and the loneliness he felt during those times could sometimes be too hard to bear.
The military man, who currently lives in Tampa, Florida, was deployed to Iraq thrice during the early 2000s. While on active duty, there is no escaping the tough days that he had to endure. But through the loneliest of times, the soldier has found light and comfort in the letters he received from little kids thousands of miles away – ones that he didn’t even know.
Buggs is an alumnus of Georgia Southern University, and to help maintain a sense of normalcy while he was on active duty, he maintained communication with his alumni office. It was through them that he got in touch with a group of kindergarten students at David Emanuel Academy, a private school in Stillmore, Georgia, 13 years ago.
A woman who worked at the alumni office had a young relative who attended that school. She heard that the kindergarten students had a gingerbread man project to help them learn about other cultures, and they needed someone to take pictures with the character in other parts of the world.
Michelle Lamm, the students’ teacher, reached out to Buggs to see if he would be interested in helping the kids out with the project.
And the soldier delivered more than what was expected.
“I started taking the gingerbread man and writing stories to the kids and sending them back to them, and then it kind of morphed because the kids started sending me stuff,” Buggs said. “And then over the years as I was traveling I would send them something, and then after a while we were just coordinating back and forth.”
He had American flags flown in Iraq for each of the students, then he mailed it to the kids along with certificates of authenticity. A local newspaper got wind of the story and featured the photo of 13 kindergarten students holding their flags. It was from there that a regular correspondence between Buggs and the students began, and it lasted for more than a decade.
“They were just probably doing a school project but it meant so much to me,” Buggs said. “When you’re sitting in your [bunker] by yourself and you’ve been deployed a few months and the loneliness is there, the letters from home, you get them and it changes your perspective of what you’re dealing with.”
“Your mind forgets what’s going on around you and have tunnel vision going through these letters,” he said.
This year, Buggs visited his alma mater for military appreciation weekend and thought that it would be the perfect time to meet up with his pen pals after years of snail mail. He arranged to surprise the students during David Emanuel Academy’s senior day.
“I had anxiety of how it would play out because you’re a stranger and they don’t realize the impact,” Buggs said.
Their long-awaited meeting was documented through a series of photographs shared on the school’s Facebook page. An instant connection was established once the two parties met.
“In the end, we all started joking and laughing and talking about college and everything,” Buggs shared. “We all started talking about life, and I just explained to them that sometimes the simple thing of kindness is very important and sometimes you don’t realize because you don’t see the effect of it, even if you’re 5 years old.”
The soldier, who has served in the military for nearly three decades, hopes that all service members get the opportunity to express gratitude to their supporters in person.
“If you get an opportunity to personally face-to-face thank someone, take that opportunity,” he said. “It may change somebody’s life by going and saying thank you.”
It’s amazing to know how a seemingly small gesture could mean so much to somebody else, especially if that person is going through some rough times. Indeed, we should take every chance we could to make someone smile, because we never know if our one small act could possibly change their lives.
Kindness matters, always.
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