Tips for Meaningful Letter Writing

Sometimes writing a letter can be a little bit intimidating. What do you say? How do you introduce yourself? What would they like to know about you?

There are no rules for writing letters to heroes because as long as what you say comes from the heart, there’s no wrong way. Well, maybe there is 1 rule – not all of them are Soldiers. Your letter may go to a Sailor, Marine, Airman, or Guardian (what they call members of the Space Force). We don’t know what box your letter will go into, so please say, “Dear Hero,” "Dear Protector of Freedom,” “Dear American Service Member,” etc. Something like that covers all the bases. Saying “Dear Soldier” limits where your letter can be sent and to who. For example, your letter couldn’t be sent out on a “boomer” submarine to a Sailor at sea. They aren’t Soldiers. They are Sailors. So, just say, “Dear Hero.” They will deny it all day, but they will love knowing you think they are Heroes. And, after all, that’s what they are. Right?

We know sometimes it's just hard to get started so we asked our Hugs members to give us some tips to share with new letter writers. Here's a summary of their ideas:

  1. Write about what interests you and keep it on the happy side.
  2. Tell things about yourself like hobbies or interests. Do you like sports? “Soccer is my favorite” or “I once went to a Thunder game. It was fun.” Do you have brothers and sisters? “My little brother drives me crazy, but I don’t mind.” Do you love animals? “My dog, Lucy, does lots of tricks. Sometimes when she sits up, she falls over.” What kind of food do you like? “My mom’s a great cook. We had tacos last night. They were HOT!!” Those kinds of things will interest them and make them smile.
  3. Write about your life but keep it positive. “I love to ride my bike, even when I crash!”
  4. Thank them because you get to live in a free country. Everyone doesn’t have that privilege.
  5. If you have connections to someone in the military, be sure to mention that. Did your mom, dad, brother, sister, or grandpa serve? “Seven of my great-uncles served during WWII. And my grandpa was in Vietnam."
  6. Be positive. Say things to lift their spirits. "Troops ROCK!!"
  7. Stay away from sad or depressing topics. No politics. We hope to cheer them up!!
  8. Tell them what’s going on at home but maybe stay away from things happening in the news unless it’s an upbeat story like a guy rescuing some baby ducks that fell down a road drain or something good like that.
  9. Let them know you support them. Thank them for doing a hard job.
  10. Your letters don’t have to be long, just write from your heart.
  11. Write in the same way you speak and show your personality.
  12. Include questions for conversation. How long have you been where you are? What do you eat for lunch? Do you have a gym on your base? Who’s your best buddy?
  13. Encouraging quotes are always nice.
  14. Please don’t share anything negative, personal struggles, your thoughts about controversial subjects, or ask their opinion about controversial subjects.
  15. Tell how you got started with The Hugs Project and why you’re glad to volunteer and write letters to them.

Here are some examples:

Kathi: “I always just tried to write a letter that I would like to read.”

Melissa (age 6 wrote): “Dear Hero, thank you for keeping me safe. P.S. I love doggies.”

Edna: “Tonight in Oklahoma, it will get down to -16 degrees, but I will sleep under a warm blanket of freedom courtesy of the US Military, and I can’t thank you enough for that privilege.”

Lacy: "I wrote and told them about my family and the kind of things we like to do together (boating in the summer and crafts in the winter). I said, “Thank you. I live and work in a free country and I’m grateful to you for that. I know you work hard to keep us safe.’"

Dave: “I pretended he was someone I knew and shared what was going on at home.”

Julie: “I recap my week with my family and at work. I only talk about happy and fun stuff to keep all the letters upbeat and positive. I add in Sunday comics for fun.”

Mike: “I let him know how proud I am of his service. I told him to please let his buddies know it too. I said that we had just gotten a rescue dog named Piper and how special she is to my family already... even though she made a HUGE mess in the living room last night.”

Joyce: “Turns out we both like the KC Chiefs.”

Lisa: “You don’t always have to know what to write. Sometimes short and sweet is the way to go! Taking 5 minutes to thank them and letting them know you are praying or thinking of them is what they need to hear.”

Sara: “I write just like I would talk. The main thing is to keep it light-hearted, upbeat, and non-political.”

Shandra: “I start by offering my thanks and telling them I’m sorry they must leave home to do their job. I then explain to them how much it means to me that I get to live in a free country and not be afraid every day. Then I write a short paragraph about myself. I then write a few generic questions to start the conversation. I close with a Bible verse or an encouraging quotation.”

Bob: “Just tell your story. Get to know you type things. Always be positive and encouraging too.”

Marie: “Tell who you are first. Then talk about your life a bit: hobbies, interests, passions, work, and family (if you feel comfortable). Then just write about everyday life. That’s what they want most…a touch of home. I think it’s always great to include how grateful you are for their service. But remember, they hear that a lot. People say it without giving it a lot of thought. So, tell them why YOU are grateful.”

Lenny: “Introduce yourself and tell them about your family and pets. Let them know why you are writing. Tell them about daily stuff and funny things, stories, or even tell them about sports... Most guys want to know what is happening in the sports world. I know I liked when people sent me news about sports when I was deployed.”

Becca: “Tell them about school and how you got to write a letter, so they know it’s not some hoax.”

Christi: “Don’t be afraid to share ‘your story’. Be sure to thank them for being in the military. Include some humor but be aware that everyone has a different sense of humor. If you get the Sunday funny papers, send them over. Tell them a riddle (*EXAMPLE – 'You’re in a race and you pass the person in 2nd place. What position are you in now?'). Be sure to include the answer at the close of your letter (*ANSWER – '2nd place!!').”

Melody: “I always tell them a little about myself, thank them for serving our country, and send them a prayer or inspirational poem. They appreciate knowing that a stranger takes the time to let them know we think about them and care about them.”

Caroline: “It’s easy to write them, just keep it happy with no negativity, that’s all you have to do.”

Charlotte: “First letter should be an introduction. I talk about my family and some of my more unique interests. If you're a student, let them know where you go to school and what subjects you like and which you don’t. My letters are all about getting them out of where they are for a short time. I often talk about what I've been doing. Other times it is describing the area around me, writing stories, or describing things (like the sound of rain in the woods), or what I have been reading. Keep the letter happy.”

Kaci: “I always include stories of my puppy’s antics in the letter for a laugh or two. I thank them for the time I have to enjoy the simple pleasures. I express how I feel about the freedom they’re fighting so hard to defend, a new-found patriotism, how much I appreciate and respect their exceptional character and commitment, and that there is a high level of importance to what they are risking their lives to do. I let them know we fly the flag at our house. I never talk about anything negative. I never share personal struggles. I never make any promises, other than to say that they’ll always have a place in my heart and my prayers and that they will never be forgotten. Mostly, they just want to know that what they’re doing means something to you and means something in the big scheme of things.”

We hope you have fun sharing your life with someone you will never meet. Just remember, they will never meet us either, yet they are doing an incredibly difficult job for us. Did you know that less than 1/2 of 1% of us ever serve in the military? They are special and unique and go to places we can only imagine. They are some of America’s finest men and women and we now get the chance to say, “Thank you. We love you and we are SO grateful.’

One last thought - If you don't hear back from someone, it could be for several reasons.
1. No address was shared.
2. They are busy completing missions.
3. They spend the few moments they have writing to family, exercising, reading a book, or otherwise trying to relax from a VERY stressful job.

If you don't hear back, don't think it means your letter didn't matter to them. Here's one story I want to share. About 3 years ago (2020), my cell phone rang on a Sunday afternoon. I answer every call, "Hello, this is The Hugs Project. May I help you?" Dead silence. I said again, "Hello, this is The Hugs Project. May I help you?" Only then did I hear someone on the line - "Uh, hi. Uh, I wasn't expecting anyone to pick up. I was just going to leave a message.” I replied, "Well, I'm here if you'd like to talk to me.” He said, "Yes Ma'am, I would.”

He took a moment to gather his thoughts and then words poured out like a torrent. "I live in Georgia, and I wanted you to know that when I was in Afghanistan, I got a package from The Hugs Project, and I just wanted to say thank you and tell you how much it meant to me.” We then visited for quite a long time before he said, "Well, I've taken up enough of your time, but I wanted you to know that care packages and letters are what keep us going when we’re deployed. We are so happy there are good folks like you back home who remember, we're still serving over there.” After about 45 minutes, we began wrapping up the phone call, but I could tell there was more he wanted to say. He got really quiet and then shared with me that he had no family left. They had died in an auto accident while he was on the other side of the world. He then repeated how much it had helped him when he received our support. The last thing he said was, "I want you to know, I have thought of you all so many times over the years that today when it again came to mind, I decided to call and just let you know, you made a difference in my life and so many others. Ma’am… (long pause) ... we got that box in 2008.”

Thank you for remembering troops like John from Georgia. I can promise you; you will make a positive difference for someone far from home. We appreciate your help.