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Medal of Honor recipients received 12,000 personalized letters from complete strangers this year, and they're absolutely incredible
This year, more than 12,000 people set aside time to write personal letters to Medal of Honor recipients. They wrote from their kitchen tables and desks, their homes and offices. Some were in class, from elementary to high school; at least one wrote from prison.
They typed, they drew, and they wrote in pen, pencil, and marker, then sealed the letters and sent them to Janine Stange, who for the third year in a row collected, sorted, and delivered them to 72 recipients of the nation's highest award for valor.
Janine Stange in front of the letters that thousands of strangers wrote to 72 Medal of Honor recipients as part of this year's Medal of Honor Mail Call.
Called a Medal of Honor "mail call," the campaign started on March 3 this year, and the letters were delivered in person to 28 recipients at an event in Arlington, Virginia, this past weekend. Those recipients who were unable to attend will receive their letters in the mail in the coming weeks.
"The outpouring was incredible," Stange, a motivational speaker and singer who was the first person to perform the National Anthem in all 50 states, said in a statement. "From elementary students to senior citizens, letters were sent from veteran groups, corporations, hospice centers, special education classes, police departments, even from those who served alongside our recipients. It was an overwhelming outpouring of gratitude."
"This is the third year of the mail call," she added. "These guys love getting the letters, you can see it in their faces when they're given their bundle. But the real value in this project is giving citizens the chance to research their exploits and sacrifices, and express gratitude to them and their fellow veterans."
The letters came in all shapes and sizes from all 50 states. Some were packaged in standard white envelopes, others were red, brown, emblazoned with the American flag, or sealed in yellow packages. But it's the content of the letters that stands out. Each one, written by a stranger, is addressed to a specific recipient. They're personal, thoughtful, and, well, pretty freaking awesome.
People of all ages and all 50 states sent thousands of letters to Medal of Honor recipients.Janine Stange
One letter addressed to Kyle Carpenter, the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor, came from an 8th grader named Brooke:
"Throughout my life I have been taught to be selfless. But why? When I hear stories like yours, I know why. When I read that you jumped on the grenade to protect your fellow Marine, I thought to myself, would I ever be that brave and selfless to do that? To be honest, I probably wouldn't, but I want you to know that you inspire me."
The Marine Corps infantryman was awarded for his heroism in Marjah, Afghanistan on Nov. 21, 2010, when he jumped on an enemy grenade that was hurled onto his rooftop security position, saving the life of another Marine by absorbing most of the blast.
A letter from an 8th grade student to Medal of Honor recipient Kyle Carpenter.Janine Stange
"It's really moving," Medal of Honor recipient Thomas Norris said in the press statement. "I'm in awe because you just don't expect this kind of response from people you don't know. I'm very honored that people took the time, they have my heartfelt thanks."
A former Navy SEAL, Norris rescued two pilots, who were lost in enemy territory, after their aircraft went down in Quang Tri Province Vietnam in April, 1972.
12,000 letters were written to Medal of Honor recipients this year.Janine Stange
In another letter, an unidentified student wrote "I know you say you don't consider yourself a hero, but you found yourself in a situation where you had a choice to act selfishly or selflessly, and you chose the latter. I want you to know that I want to be the same way."
The are no specific guidelines for authoring a letter for the campaign. Instead, the campaign's website encourages writers to "tell them how you felt while learning about their acts of selflessness and courage."
Some participants sent gifts with their letters, like one man who wrote from a correctional institute in Pennsylvania to Gary L. Littrell, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during a four-day assault on his battalion during the Vietnam War.
"Enclosed with this letter is a 'Reese-Fast Break' candy bar that I had purchased at the institution," the letter reads. "I'm embarrassed that I am not able to offer you something that is a more appropriate and fitting gesture of gratitude for a hero [such] as yourself, but I hope that you will do me the honor of accepting this as a small token of my sincere gratitude for the freedom that we as Americans enjoy and often take for granted."
SEE ALSO: This is all that was left of Kyle Carpenter's M4 after the attack that led to his Medal of Honor
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While the U.S. military wants to keep roughly 8,600 troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's deputy leader has just made clear that his group wants all U.S. service members to leave the country as part of any peace agreement.
"The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand," Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in a story for the New York Times on Thursday.
In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.
Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"
The next day was different.
"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."
A video has emerged showing a U.S. military vehicle running a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria after it tried to pass an American convoy.
Questions still remain about the incident, to include when it occurred, though it appears to have taken place on a stretch of road near the Turkish border town of Qamishli, according to The War Zone.
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.
Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.
Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.
Survival expert and former Special Air Service commando Edward "Bear" Grylls made meme history for drinking his own urine to survive his TV show, Man vs. Wild. But the United States Air Force did Bear one better recently, when an Alaska-based airman peed in an office coffee maker.
While the circumstances of the bladder-based brew remain a mystery, the incident was written up in a newsletter written by the legal office of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on February 13, a base spokesman confirmed to Task & Purpose.