LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- During wartime, separation from loved ones has always been a hardship that both soldiers and their families have had to overcome.Letters crisscrossed vast continents, oceans and battlefields bringing troops up to date on the latest hometown news, weather and gossip. Most importantly, the letters brought them fond memories from home and the reminder that they are missed, but not forgotten.Though the methods of communication are now near instantaneous, for many, there is nothing that can replace the feeling one gets when receiving a good old fashioned hand written letter from home.
For U.S. Army Capt. Bryson Shipman in Afghanistan, this couldn't be more true.Shipman, a 30 year-old native of Cedar Park, Texas, and commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, has received hand written letters from his grandmother every single day of his current deployment.In fact, he's gotten daily letters from his grandmother throughout his previous overseas deployments and received weekly letters and care packages during the four years he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point as well.In all, Shipman estimates he's received more than 1,000 letters over the years, and he's saved every one.Sitting on a coffee table in his sparse plywood office is an opened three-ring binder containing hundreds of neatly filed letters and cards.As Shipman flipped through the trove of letters before him, he explained what he believes drives Mrs. Peggy Shipman, his 77 year-old grandmother, to go to such lengths."We are a tight knit family from small communities just outside of Austin, Texas," Shipman said. "My grandmother always made sure that we remained connected as family. She is all about staying in touch and keeping the family together, but I think she also does it in large part out of a sense of duty."Peggy's acts of kindness aren't just for today's troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.Her first letters and packages were to family friends fighting the war in Korea.When that conflict ended and her brother Bobby was sent to Vietnam, she once again took up the cause, shipping tins of snicker doodle cookies to Bobby and his friends every chance she got."I was never sure the cookies were even edible until I received a letter from one of Bobby's friends in Da Nang, thanking me for the hard little biscuits", laughed Peggy."Even though the once soft chewy snicker doodles had turned to stone, Bobby's friends were appreciative," Peggy said. "That's when I realized that the guys over at the air base were simply starved for anything that reminded them of home."Peggy's gifts weren't reserved just for those serving overseas.During Shipman's college years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, he began receiving weekly deliveries of letters, cards and cookies from his grandmother, which he shared with fellow classmates.
"Many of his friends at West Point sent me a birthday card addressed to "Grandma Shippy" to say thank you for all the stuff from home," Peggy fondly recalled. "It touched my heart.""The day Bryson left for Afghanistan on his first deployment, I started writing him daily," Peggy said. "Care packages to Afghanistan became nearly a weekly love offering. We started out sending three or four boxes to some of the other soldiers in his unit and by the time that group came home, we were sending care packages regularly to 16-17 young men and women.""Now that Bryson is serving again in Afghanistan, I try to write him a letter daily," Said Peggy. "I write letters, because to me, there is more of a true connection than with a text or email. He knows I sit down here at our old kitchen table and really think about him, if only for a little while each day. I talk to him as though he were here with me. I ask questions knowing I will not get a reply, at least not for weeks."Besides being the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Shipman also wears the title of "mayor" at TB Gamberi."As mayor, I'm responsible for the day to day functions needed to keep Gamberi running smoothly," said Shipman. "Our base functions much like a city, only on a somewhat smaller scale. We have buildings to maintain, waste to be removed, medical clinics to keep open and mail to be delivered."What better man for the job?The tiny plywood post office Shipman oversees serves several hundred troops and doubles as a miniature retail store selling assorted snacks and sundry items to the troops.Tightly packed inside helicopters or slung underneath in nets on 100 foot tethers, crates of mail are delivered to the base several times per week.
"For the troops, receiving letters from home goes a long way in keeping up their morale," Shipman said. "I think there are few people in this world who truly appreciate and understand this more than me, and I want it to reflect in the service we provide."
Shipman says the letters he's received from his grandmother over the years have special meaning and are being preserved to serve another purpose as well. For him, the letters are a record of family history - a history he plans to share with his children."Through these letters, I want my children to know what great grandparents I had and what they meant to me," Shipman said. "I want them to know how uplifting, supportive, loving and kind they were to everyone they met."