November 2020: Teen-2-Teen
Making mail call special
by Karly Just
MAIL CALL! With most of our communication being sent electronically, these two words most likely don’t have significant meaning to a majority of Americans. However, to the 1 percent of Americans who enroll in the U.S. Armed Services, hearing “MAIL CALL” is the sweetest sound.
I am part of that 1 percent. Last year, I enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard. Why did I choose that path? I wanted to serve my country and follow in the footsteps of my Grandpa Jim Bitz, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The National Guard will allow me to attend college tuition-free and have a civilian career while still serving my country.
I am a senior at LaMoure High School, and doing the split training option, which means I completed basic training this summer, and will complete AIT (advanced individual training) in the summer of 2021, after my high school graduation. This will allow me to begin my college career in August 2021 with my peers.
After a socially distant goodbye parade, I left LaMoure in early June and headed to my training base at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Enduring 12 weeks of basic training is no easy task. Being away from my family, farm and friends for such a long time was a challenge like no other, especially in the middle of a global pandemic! The long, daily routine in the extreme heat of Missouri was grueling, the physical tasks were demanding, and one had to be mentally tough to finish strong.
In terms of communicating with the world outside of Fort Leonard Wood, I only had access to my cellphone for around five minutes every Sunday. Letters from home are what gave me the strength to succeed. I received letters daily from family, friends, teachers, church members and community members. Some shared stories about what was happening back home, some wrote Bible verses and inspirational messages, and some included news headlines and articles to help make sense of what was happening in the world.
Mail call happened daily and words cannot describe how I felt when I heard these words shouted out by a drill sergeant. The sergeants would appear with huge bags of mail while the soldiers were in formation. They would dump the bags out, pick up a letter, call the last name and throw it out into the sea of around 150 soldiers. It was your job to find the letter that was thrown into the group. We were just so grateful to receive something, that we didn’t care about fighting our way through the crowd to receive our letters or packages. (My favorite packages were the ones that included Oreos or Cheez-It crackers!)
After all the mail and packages were distributed, we had two minutes to eat any snack and dump out all items for inspection. Every single photo or news clipping was checked by the sergeants to make sure the material was appropriate. I was nicknamed “Cowgirl,” because my mom would send me a photo daily of my family’s farm I missed back home. Whenever a photo of my goat, Pepper, showed up in a letter, it quickly became the center of attention and was passed around for everyone to see.
Imagine being a soldier who had to watch all this excitement unfold, and your name was never called during “mail call.” This happened to some of my friends and I felt guilty having received so many letters. One Sunday, I shared with my family about these soldiers. My mom shared their names and addresses with our family and community members, and before long, they all started receiving letters and packages from all over the Midwest. It made me so proud to be from North Dakota, where everyone is treated like family.
Writing letters is a lost art, and something that I now treasure. As a member of Gen Z, the only world I’ve known has internet, cellphones and social media. Keeping in touch with others through letters was something I had never done. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for past service members when the mail service was slow and there were no weekly phone calls back home.
I’ll leave you with this challenge. If you know a young man or woman serving our country, ask their family for an address. Please take a few minutes and send a letter from home to our country’s soldiers. Let their “mail call” be memorable, just like mine!