Military pen pal programs are generally run by volunteers, veteran-friendly private organizations, and similar groups. The Department of Defense itself does not operate such programs but you may find individual bases that have local programs originating with MWR programs, base family support offices, etc.
In 2020, Army.mil published a feature story on a military spouse at Fort Sill Oklahoma who started something called the Veteran Pen Pal Project. Designed to help ease the pain of COVID-19 restrictions among veterans living in a Fort Sill veteran’s center during the lockdown.
That campaign is a good example of a 21st-century update of a very old tradition of sending letters to military members who are far from home–the concept of the military pen pal.
There are many American organizations that have run military pen pal programs or operations in the same spirit as military pen pal drives, including:
Soldier’s Angels is a non-profit organization with a global volunteer network across all 50 states, and many locations overseas.
The Soldier’s Angels Letter Writing Team program asks volunteers to commit to a three-month letter writing program where the volunteers write “a one-time letter” to a service member “waiting for adoption” through a program that adopts service members who are deployed. Team volunteers are, “required to write a minimum of one letter per month, but can write many more during the month, if they choose”.
This organization has been known for providing support with care packages to deployed troops every three weeks or so. While this is not strictly a military pen pal operation, getting any kind of mail from home is a welcome thing in a deployed environment or a forward location.
This organization performs care package and handwritten letter outreach to deployed troops and those serving at overseas locations who are not deployed. One popular campaign is called Christmas In July, where volunteers prep and ship ten thousand care packages and handwritten letters of appreciation.
This campaign is in the spirit of the original Christmas In July program started in 1944–the Operation Gratitude official site says the U.S. Postal Service teamed up with greeting card companies and military branches to encourage gift cards, letters, and care packages sent to troops stationed overseas.
This military medical center has in the past conducted a drive called Holiday Mail For Heroes. This campaign has been used for holiday morale-raising purposes, with all mail screened and distributed around the country to military patients. This program is unique in that it has in the past only sought holiday cards, not letters or inserts of any kind.
The program required cards to be addressed in a generic way and not to a specific person. Volunteers are encouraged to submit as many cards as they wish for maximum impact for the largest number of recipients.
This is a program that over the years has shifted emphasis to local campaigns and does not feature a national drive as it once did. However, it’s a good source of inspiration for those who might be interested in taking up the cause in their local community.
Where To Look To Find Military Pen Pals
The kinds of organizations mentioned above are not your only resource for finding a military pen pal. There are military-themed groups on social media or you can contact your nearest military base to learn if there is a letter writing campaign for your local National Guard unit, Air Force Reserve unit, Army Reserve, etc.
You can also contact bases in your area to learn how to send letters or care packages to troops deployed from your nearest military base. Here are some places to start your search for a pen pal or pen pal program:
- On-base family support centers/soldier support centers
- Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) centers or websites
- Military Medical Centers
- VA facilities
- Local chapters of the VFW, DAF, American Legion, etc.
- Military-oriented publications
- Local charities that include veteran-focused outreach
Start Your Own Military Pen Pal Campaign
It can be difficult to find a pen pal project–there are some who feel their time is better spent starting one of their own instead of trying to locate a program that appeals to them. You may find others just as willing to help who also don’t have the inclination to wade through a lot of internet search results to find a legitimate operation.
A good military pen pal campaign is one that is encouraging, positive, and supportive of the troops you are writing to. It’s good to avoid politics, controversial issues, and other areas while in the getting-to-know-you phase of a letter writing campaign.
Consider a potential pen pal the same way you would meeting someone in a movie theater or restaurant–there are some areas safe and fun to discuss, and others best saved for when you know one another better.
You can use the same list provided above in the section titled, “Where To Look For Military Pen Pals” to start your research to begin a pen pal drive of your very own.
One thing that some discover about letter-writing campaigns, military pen pal outreach, and care package campaigns–it’s good to have a group of people all working for the same cause. It’s easy to start a letter writing project for a soldier, sailor, Airman, or Marine from your hometown. It’s harder to keep the project going when life gets busy, stressful, or demanding.
Working with a group of like-minded friends or neighbors can help offset this. Starting your own letter writing campaign with a group of others is a good way to ensure the project continues to move forward even when individual members get too busy to help consistently.
Letter Writers Beware
Some programs pretending to be soldier support campaigns or military pen pal programs may be something else entirely.
Beware of any letter writing program, website, or other resource that seems dodgy, poorly designed, or basically clueless about what it means to be in the military. Many scams target veterans, military families, and those in uniform.
If you seek legitimate military pen pal opportunities, beware of red flags. Think twice if you encounter any variation of what’s mentioned below:
- Operations that ask you for personal information like a credit card number, Social Security Number, etc.
- Sites and programs that aren’t strictly focused on veterans, military members, etc. Does the letter writing campaign website you just found have a dating section? Beware.
- Do not give sensitive personal information to any third party or even a letter writer.
- Set boundaries and ground rules for yourself ahead of time–don’t respond to any program or even a letter writer who asks you to violate your ground rules.
- Do not send money. Do not offer to send money, and do not give your banking details to anyone asking for them in this context. Your pen pal efforts are volunteerism–when did you ever hear of having to pay someone in order to volunteer?
- Don’t respond to offers, queries, or requests for private data.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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