By Sarah J. Schmidt, USAG Schinnen PAODecember 4, 2008
SCHINNEN, Netherlands -- In today's Internet and instant-messaging world, writing a letter seems like a novelty, but not for folks in Europe's tri-border region. They're writing lots of cards and letters this holiday season as part of the "Holiday Mail Call" program for wounded warriors at Walter Reed Medical Center.
Sponsored by the Red Cross, Staff Sgt. Brian Cottell of U.S Army Garrison Schinnen's Military Police, spearheaded the project in the tri-border area. He heard about the program from an Army buddy stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. To check it out, he went online, then talked to Schinnen's postmaster, who knew about the Red Cross program and gave it a big thumbs up. That's all Cottell needed to get started.
Soon, he'd enlisted help from his friends and co-workers at USAG Schinnen. They fashioned festive holiday collection boxes and positioned them in every U.S. postal facility in the tri-border area, which covers the border corners of Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Word spread fast. Even before he'd finished putting out the collection boxes, Cottell received a bundle of 30 cards from a class of students at nearby AFNORTH International School in Brunssum, Netherlands.
More would soon follow. Because of mailing deadlines, the collection boxes were only available until Dec. 5, which Cottell feared was early in the holiday season. But just in that short period, the project brought in hundreds of cards.
The concept was simple: participants signed a holiday greeting card, maybe wrote a few lines of support or words of thanks to a wounded warrior, and addressed the card to "Holiday Mail Call." Cottell and his team packaged up the bundles of cards and shipped them off to the Red Cross in Washington, D.C. where the cards were reviewed for suitability.
There, volunteers from the Pitney Bowes corporation sorted through cards, ensuring they didn't contain personal contact info or things like phone cards, photos, money, religious articles, glitter, 'snow' or like items that could be inappropriate, hazardous or otherwise prohibited. Pitney Bowes provided all screening, packaging and shipping at no charge, plus thousands of volunteer hours from its employees.
The cards were then distributed throughout the holiday season to U.S. servicemembers undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. Last year, the Red Cross delivered more than 600,000 cards for troops through the Holiday Mail Call program.
"I've been deployed twice; never been wounded, thank goodness, but I can imagine how difficult it is to be alone and hurting and stuck in a hospital for Christmas," Cottell muses. He remembers receiving a box of students' letters from a former high-school teachers while he was deployed. "It felt really nice to know somebody somewhere was thinking about me," Cottell said smiling.
"Soldiers don't get mail every day, so any day with a card or letter really brings up the moral," Cottell says. "If we can assist in bringing a little bit of happiness to the wounded just by sending a card, then this is the least we can do."