Writing Letters to Deployed Soldiers: What Not to Write

what not to write

It’s absolutely amazing how much I’m getting done in the basement for my organizational project.  I’m finding things from years ago. I trashed a bunch of old papers from school (rightfully so, I was a horrible writer in school, what was I thinking!)  I’ve parted with a lot of baby stuff from the girls, and I’ll be going through their old clothes soon too.  What really caught me though was a stack of letters from friends/family to my husband while he was deployed to Iraq.  He’s busy working two jobs right now, and I hijacked him last night to help me more in the basement, so I didn’t want to take anymore of his time.  Sent him a quick text to ask if I could glance through them to report back what was in them to see if he wanted to save them and I was shocked at what I found after he gave me permission to read through them.  I don’t want to call anyone out or dwell on about the gory details, because this was about eight years ago and I learned a long time ago to focus on the positive and not hash out the past because it’s not worth it. I do want to leave a quick guidelines from what I’ve learned in two deployments to help people decide what to write in their letters to their friends and loved ones and the things that should best be left out.

  1. Why haven’t you responded?  Please do not ask your soldier for the reasons s/he hasn’t responded to your letters, emails, PM’s or any other method you are able to contact the troops. There are many reasons not to ask this, here are a couple.  Your soldier may be in a Communication Blackout.  This means all communication methods have been shut down for security.  They may not have the ability to contact you.  I know during My husband’s first deployment, they were frequently in blackout and he couldn’t contact me no matter what.  Another reason is s/he may not have time.  While the leaders do their best to provide breaks, soldiers first priority is their mission.  Nick was working 16 hour days and often still had other obligations preventing him from getting enough rest.  He was exhausted and stressed, responding to letters and emails was usually an intention he had, but could never find the time. Heck, he didn’t even respond to me half the time and I’m his wife! He felt bad enough knowing he needed to talk to people on his list, he didn’t need it pointed out to him.
  2. Why didn’t you spend time with me on your leave?  The down low on this one is that while some people are all about getting together with droves of friends and family on their two week leave (or even when they first get home after a year of deployment) there are some soldiers who want nothing to do with masses of people, or even just a few friends.  This does not mean they don’t care about you.  It does not mean they don’t want to see more of you after they decompress from a year of stress and exhaustion   Some soldiers need social time to de-stress.  Other soldiers, like my husband, need quiet time away from people (sometimes even me) just to relax.  This is normal reactions based on introverted and extroverted personalities.  Also, there can be a lot of friends and family who are all wanting their time with their friend/family member they have been away from for a year.  Giving each one individual time means the soldier doesn’t have time for himself.  Please be respectful of the stress a soldier has gone through and remember it is probably not about you, if you think it is, a letter to the soldier is not the place to communicate it.
  3. Don’t guilt trip your soldier.  Please, please, please do not tell your soldier how much people miss them and they are doing a shoddy job paying respects back, they’ve changed because they aren’t contacting you, that they don’t care because they haven’t spent time with you or responded to you, or anything else that can guilt trip a soldier.  Remember, like I said before, their focus is on their mission while they are gone and then on destressing and relaxing when they are back.  It’s not about you, don’t make it about you, and don’t guilt the soldier into feeling bad for these things when they have little control over it all.camo peace
  4. Don’t blame the spouse/significant other. I will be the first to say it, I do not control my husbands actions, no matter how hard I try to, I don’t.  I like to think he listens to me, but that’s because he agrees with me most of the time and is doing it because he wants to.  There are many times that I have asked him to do things, and if he doesn’t want to or doesn’t agree with it, he won’t do it.  Actions of the soldier are of the soldier alone.  Don’t blame the significant other for any actions the soldier does or does not take, you don’t know what is being said on the other end.  Maybe the significant other is urging the solder to do things and they are not following through (because of the many reasons listed above) or maybe the significant other is not urging them, in which case it becomes the choice of the soldier to act.  Either way, it all comes down to the choices the soldier makes.  Do not, under any circumstances blame the spouse/significant other for actions or inactions of the soldier. Even if it were the fault of the significant other, a letter is not the place to complain about that person’s significant other.
  5. You’re not making an effort.  I don’t think I really need to explain why this is such a bad thing to say to a soldier, mainly because they are out there protecting your freedoms and fighting for your country.  To say they are not making an effort for that reason, and every other reason I listed above is just wrong.  Deployment is something the majority of citizens of this country will thankfully never have to face.  Even if a soldier is not making an effort when they are home on a regular day, do not tell them this in your letter to them while they are deployed. Wait and have a face to face, serious conversation to find out what’s wrong. It could be something serious like depression or PTSD or it could just be that the relationship has drifted apart. Things like that happen, but you’ll never know until you talk it out.
  6. You’ve changed. No matter how true this is, it’s best to leave this out of letters. For the most part, this is actually a fairly cliche comment anyway and probably shouldn’t grace a conversation because it’s extremely vague.  People do change, it’s not always a bad thing, and often it’s good.  Just because someone isn’t the same person they were a decade ago, doesn’t mean they should go right back to being that person they once were. Most likely it means they’ve either grown up or taken a different path in their life.  If you aren’t as close to this person as you once were, this difference in path may explain why you feel they’ve changed so much.  Maybe do a little something to get to know the new person better to learn why they are the way they are because they obviously mean enough for you to find the need to say something, or forget about it and accept the change as it is.  When it comes to being a soldier.  In most cases, yes, they probably did change.  The military will do that to you (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, it all depends on what you’ve seen and experienced.)

writing letters

Ok, so those are some insights into what not to say to a soldier while deployed, here are a few things you should talk about with a deployed soldier.

  • What’s the weather like where you are.
  • Thank you.
  • What has the family been up to.
  • What’s the low down on the TV show your soldier follows but can’t due to deployment (unless they don’t want you giving any spoilers)
  • Send pictures  lots and lots of pictures.
  • Talk about work (unless it’s super negative, then skip that one)
  • Talk about the pets.
  • Talk about friends (not gossip, just the good stuff)
  • Be positive.  There is so much negativity going around and your soldier does not want to be where he is, doing whatever he is doing, so keep it positive to help get them through the day.
  • Talk about a home remodeling project. If you’re like me, you’ll design something with them in mind, then lie and tell them it’s something they’ll hate.
  • Tell them you miss them, and leave it at that.  No guilt, just a simple I miss you.  I’m sure they miss you too.
  • Ask them if they need anything or want you to send anything in a care package.
  • Tell them funny stories. Did you attempt to do something they normally did and it failed big time?  As long as no one was hurt and the end result is 100% funny, share it, let them know how much they are needed, but you’re making do in the mean time.
  • Talk about what meal they want to eat when they get home.  Most likely anything is better than military food.
  • Write to them 100 reasons you love them.

 Do you have anything to add to either list? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

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20 Responses to Writing Letters to Deployed Soldiers: What Not to Write

  1. Susan Bewley says:

    Not something easy for people to write. I have many friends who were in the army and family, including my older brother. We rarely saw him and my mother was furious with him for years!
    Susan Bewley recently posted…Best Beauty Products: Professional Skin Care System ReviewMy Profile

    • Mary says:

      The military lifestyle is hard on everyone involved. I know we’ve had our troubles with trying to communicate with every single person and make sure everyone is getting the attention they need (not always the attention they want). I will say, our second deployment was much easier because of social media. None of us were very active on it for the first deployment, so it was hard to get information out to everyone, but the second big deployment was a lot easier. As much as I curse social media for sucking the life away from me, it is a blessing for these types of situations.
      Mary recently posted…31 Day Organizational Challenge: Progress Week 1My Profile

  2. Rachel R. says:

    I am seriously FLOORED. People write this stuff?! What in heaven’s name are they thinking?

    I can’t imagine putting additional weight of any kind on our soldiers’ shoulders, that is in any way avoidable. Why would it not occur to people to keep it “light”? People just really don’t THINK.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, a thousand times THANK YOU to our soldiers and to those of you who give them up, and live with the worry and the added responsibility, on our behalf!
    Rachel R. recently posted…Twiztt CookwareMy Profile

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Rachel :) I think “thinking” is the key. People don’t always consider the ramifications of their words and are more likely to speak their mind in any format at any time. It seems like consideration has taken a turn for the worse in this day and age. It’s just not as common to find considerate people out there as it used to be.
      Mary recently posted…Ten Things To Do Without TelevisionMy Profile

  3. This is an AMAZING list!!! Not many people know how hard it can be on them while they are deployed. I think that it’s easy to get caught up in personal feelings. Thank you for putting together such great tips! I cannot thank your family enough for the sacrifices you have made.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Great post, this is stuff I don’t know anything about. Now if someone brings this topic up I’ll have something helpful to say.
    Kathleen recently posted…Google Plus Statistics: All My PlusMy Profile

  5. Ashley says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! When my hubs was deployed for the first time we had a conversation via Skype (between broken connections) about how his mom and sister were writing emails with most of these int them. Mostly blaming me for him not contacting. It’s been 4 years and its still the first thing we hear when there is family drama.

    • Mary says:

      I’m sorry you have to go through that Ashley. Sometimes being the spouse makes you the easy target, sometimes that’s how I felt anyway. Stay strong, you know the truth and I’m pretty sure your husband does too.

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  7. Ariel says:

    Hi Mary,
    This is great information. However, it DOES get discouraging when I’m always the one writing and get nothing in response. I know my soldier tries, but is it okay to take a break (a week or so) from writing? I have been completely positive in my emails; sometimes I get tired of writing about myself without any response/feedback. I know he’s busy/tired/stressed/etc. but it’s hard on me, too (hope that doesn’t sound selfish). He is a friend, not a boyfriend or spouse, but a very close friend.
    Honestly, part of me is worried about our next conversation because I’m afraid I will say the wrong things. I also don’t like talking about myself; I’d rather hear what he’s up to, but I understand that a lot of times soldiers don’t like to talk about what they’re experiencing there. I just don’t want to screw up.
    Maybe if you can provide more topics of conversation, that would help. I would hate not having anything to talk about.
    I care about my soldier a lot; but I’m feeling very discouraged.
    Thanks for your help.

    • Mary says:

      Hi Ariel!

      You are a blessing for being so involved in a soldiers life! Your friend is lucky to have you. It does get daunting to write letter after letter. I see no reason why you couldn’t take a week or so off, the topics do start to run short when you are frequently writing. Maybe switch to writing just a couple of times a month. Instead of just writing about yourself specifically, maybe try writing some letters that are about new upcoming movies, music, video games, or anything else your solider enjoys. They usually don’t have time to keep up on those kinds of things, so that can help too. With the holidays approaching, now is a good time to write about upcoming plans as well as some ideas on how to celebrate with your friend next year. Sometimes looking to the future is a great way to build topics because the possibilities are endless. Also, if you don’t want to write a letter all the time, maybe send a care package once every month or two. You can put fun things in there, themed items, whatever you want. I once sent my husband a 5 pound bag of Jolly Ranchers. He shared them with everyone and they loved it! Sometimes it just takes getting a little creative. Even writing a list to remind them why you’re friends. Maybe 101 crazy things we’ll do when you get back, or 101 reasons I’m glad you’re in my life. Things like that can make them laugh and keep their spirits up. Good luck, and don’t burn yourself out. That’s the last thing your friend will want. I hope this helps!
      ~Mary

      • Ariel says:

        Thanks for your reply, Mary. I’m happy to report that communication has greatly improved in the past couple of weeks. My soldier has called a couple of times, emailed once or twice, and sent me a quick text here and there. And you know what he said in his phone call and email? “Thank you so much for staying in touch with me.” If anyone else out there reads this, it DOES mean a lot to the soldier to write him/her, even if they don’t write back.
        Our relationship is a bit complicated (we have feelings for each other but can’t be anything more than friends), so I’m still not sure about the care package. Right now, I feel uncomfortable; as if that should be left to a girlfriend (although he is currently single) or his mom or another relative. I have a few ideas of things I would like to send him. Those flat-rate boxes are so big, and I can’t possibly think of things to fill them up. I feel silly asking him what kind of body wash he would like. Plus, he told me that there are leftover hygiene stuff from previous units’ care packages. I’ll just keep asking him if he needs anything until he tells me specifics.
        And I feel awful about this; I am guilty of #6 above. I’ve mentioned to him pre-deployment that he’s changed and things aren’t the same as they used to be. I think we’re over it, and maybe he wasn’t offended. He actually told me that his feelings for me stayed the same, although maybe he knew he had changed (to prepare for his deployment). That’s why I don’t ever want to screw up in the future. And yes, this is the first time dealing with a loved one being deployed.
        Thank you for the compliment; it makes me feel like I’m doing something right by being there for my friend. He means so much to me.
        Thanks again for your ideas, suggestions, and feedback. And thanks for this post :)

  8. Katrina says:

    Hi Ariel,
    I can totally related to your situation. I am starting to get a little discourage myself, but reading your comment made me feel better. I have a friend and our relationship is exactly like your’s. My question is, how long did it take before for start receiving responses after your first letter?

    • Mary Juett says:

      Katrina, when it comes to deployment and communication, it all depends on where they are, what their mission is, how busy they are and a little bit of personality. Some people hear back within a month (mail service can be slow, so response back and forth can take some time to travel if it’s regular mail). Some people never hear back. It can be discouraging if you don’t hear back, just know in most cases they want to respond, but they aren’t getting much down time or they don’t know what to write due to OPSEC. Stay positive and know you are helping them pass the time and reminding them there are people still thinking about them!
      Mary Juett recently posted…REPREVE and My 2014 Bucket ListMy Profile

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  10. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I can’t believe people actually write those things!!!

    I just signed up to “adopt” a soldier through a military support organization. So I’ll be sending letters and care packages and such, but to someone I’ve never met. Could you (or your husband) offer any ideas on what a soldier would/would not like to receive from someone they don’t know well? I do know what some of his practical needs are, so I’m mostly referring to the content of letters and little things I might send just as morale-boosters.
    Is it possible to over-thank them for their service? I want to let my soldier know how much I appreciate what he does, but without embarrassing him.

    Any suggestions you can provide would be hugely appreciated! Thanks :)

    • Mary Juett says:

      Thanks Rachel! I’m so glad you’re adopting a soldier. Trust me, you can never thank them enough. They may be a bit modest, but a flood of thanks is always a great way to put a smile on their face, which is a huge gift you could send them. My husband suggests items like trail mix, hard candies, jerky and other non-perishable food. Travel toothpaste, shampoos, toothbrushes, shave cream. He says toilet paper is needed, however many soldiers can’t shower daily so the wet towelettes or wet wipes are a good thing to send them. Paperback books might be a good thing. If they don’t care for it, they’ll just share it with other soldiers who will. If you know where they are from, sending them a hometown newspaper might be a nice touch. Games like cards, UNO or even send along some poker chips. Work out videos might even be something they might be interested in.

      Things you can write to the soldier are endless, just take a moment to sit down and think about your life for a bit and the things they might be missing out on. Tell them about you, your family, your pets, your job, what household chores are you looking forward too…which ones not so much. Do you have a favorite restaurant? Send them a list of your favorite positive/motivational quotes. Tell them a story about something funny that happened to you recently or even in the past. It’s up to you how detailed you want to get since you’ve never met them, but hearing about life in general around the States is always a good thing. Do you cook? Tell them about your favorite recipes, maybe even send some of your favorite recipes in the letter so they can take them home and try them out later.

      Good luck and happy writing! Remember, if they can write they will, but don’t expect a reply. Often they are extremely busy…but it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate what you’re sending :)

      • Rachel says:

        Mary, thank you so much to you and your husband!! This is my first time adopting a soldier and I don’t want to inadvertently say something hurtful! :) They do so much… I feel a 100 times better now after reading the tips you posted.
        I’ve been able to write to my soldier a couple of times now, as well as sending a package, and while I do feel sort of silly just rambling on about random things in my life, I think it’s going well.
        Thanks again! :)

        Also, please tell your husband THANK YOU from me for his service :)

        • Mary Juett says:

          I’m sure your soldier LOVES to hear about what’s going on in your life. It’s probably a nice break from the deployment. Don’t forget, you can always ask your soldier if there is anything they want to hear about. Maybe a TV show, sports scores or something else they are interested in. You never know :) Thanks for keeping our troops in your thoughts, that’s one of the things that keeps them going when it gets tough; knowing there are people out there who care.

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