Soldier Surprises Students Who Wrote Him Letters While He Was Deployed in Iraq 13 Years Ago
"It meant more to me to be able to say thank you to them," said Army general Vincent Buggs after coming face to face with the senior high school students who gave him comfort through difficult times since they were in Kindergarten.
Thanks to a group of kindergarten students, a US Army general found solace and a sense of normalcy during his deployment period. After thirteen years of letter exchanges between them, he returned recently to express his gratitude to the students now in high school.
"When you’re sitting in your [bunker] by yourself and you’ve been deployed a few months and the loneliness is there, the letters from home, you get them and it changes your perspective of what you’re dealing with."
HOW CHILDREN'S LETTERS TOUCHED A SOLDIER'S LIFE
“American kindness is I think one of the greatest things we have in our country,” Army Brigadier General Vincent Buggs told “Good Morning America” about the unlikely bond he formed with the group of students from David Emmanuel Academy in Stillmore, Georgetown.
More than a decade ago while serving in Iraq, Buggs found himself being part of a project of the then-kindergartners. He learned of the project through his college alumni office in Georgia Southern University which he had kept in contact with.
During one of his conversations with a woman in the office who he would ask about football and how their students were, he learned that the woman’s kindergarten niece had a project in school with a gingerbread man to learn about geography.
The woman asked him if he would take photos of the gingerbread man in places he visits in Iraq and Buggs more than obliged. In fact, according to the woman’s sister-in-law, Sandra Mosley who is one of the mothers of the kindergarteners, Buggs “did better than that.”
"He wrote a whole story about how the gingerbread man had stolen a camel’s water and how important water was to the region and how hot it was even there. He just went above and beyond,” she said.
A month later, Buggs followed up on the project and learned that the kids enjoyed his camel story. After that, he asked for their names and had flags flown for each of them in Iraq.
A photo of the children holding each of their flags made it to their local newspaper. And that was the start of years of letter exchanges between him and these children.
Buggs shared that these letters were his solace during difficult times.
"They were just probably doing a school project but it meant so much to me. When you’re sitting in your [bunker] by yourself and you’ve been deployed a few months and the loneliness is there, the letters from home, you get them and it changes your perspective of what you’re dealing with."
"Your mind forgets what’s going on around you and have tunnel vision going through these letters,” he added.
Through the course of their engages, Buggs would send the kids Kinder chocolates which they looked forward to and they would send him care packages.
"Everyone is always saying thank you to me for my service but it meant more for me to be able to say thank you to them.”
THE DAY THEY MET FOR THE FIRST TIME
Finally, about a week ago, after nearly three decades of serving in the military and several failed attempts to visit the students, he showed up at Emmanuel Academy on his way to his alumni weekend.
There he met six senior high school students from the original kindergarten class who were surprised to see him.
The impact of their first meeting made them realize how powerful their letter exchanges were.
"I never thought through the years that we’d affected his life as much as we did. He said letters from us would turn his day around,” said one of the students, Jenna Mosley.
Buggs became highly emotional as he remembered all those years of stress and the comfort he found in these children’s letters.
"For me it was like everything from that time period when I was deployed came back in an emotional rush, the missions we were going through and them writing me.
“I had a surreal moment of remembering the stressful times and how humble and happy I was to get a letter from them."
THE LESSON IMPARTED BY BUGGS' STORY
For Buggs, being able to thank these students was a “great relief.”
"Everyone is always saying thank you to me for my service but it meant more for me to be able to say thank you to them,” he said.
His takeaway from all this and the lesson he imparts is this:
"American kindness is I think one of the greatest things we have in our country and it’s not spoken enough of the small things that people do to make a difference in other people’s lives. Everybody can make an impact and do something positive."
Photos of Buggs' first encounter with the students were shared on David Emmanuel Academy's Facebook page. He gave each of them a hug and posed for commemorative photos dressed in his uniform.
DEA was celebrating Senior Day that day which made Buggs' surprise visit even more special for his former pen pals.
"Small gestures of kindness really do impact in mighty ways!" the page said.