As a Marine Corps officer stationed in Baghdad, I've always appreciated getting letters while deployed abroad.
I recently received a letter from a second-grader named Kaitlyn. She had clearly worked very hard on the letter — there were eraser marks where a lowercase E had nearly gotten the better of her, and the I's were dotted by heavy black circles — but what touched me were Kaitlyn's simple questions.
What do you like to do when you're not fighting? Do you miss your family? Will you ever come home?
I answered her questions as well as I could, but what Kaitlyn will never know is that the thing I appreciated most about her letter was what was missing from it. She did not have a corporate sponsor or Web site to go to for "more information" — just a little hand-drawn picture of the American flag.
Unfortunately, efforts such as Kaitlyn's are becoming the exception.
You see, if you happen to be watching professional football this Thanksgiving, you will probably notice advertisements promoting the newest way to send your thanks to the troops. Just pull out your cell phone and text a message. Patriotism has never been so easy.
The catch is that unlike a letter, this text message doesn't actually go to any troops. Instead, it goes to a Web site where it can be viewed with all the other texts from all the other well-wishers — a Web site few troops even know exists.
Of course, the marketers of this particular stunt are counting on the fact you won't think that far ahead. What's important is that you feel better for having done it — and the corporate sponsors get the credit.
But your convenience comes at a cost. When patriotism becomes the domain of the same marketers who have taught us to love our cars, our shoes, our televisions, the results are hollow ad campaigns that tell you being a patriot is as easy as ordering a pizza — only a text message away.
And while you might like to think that the troops are the beneficiaries of this "super-sized," Madison Avenue approach to national loyalty, it's simply not true.
I'll be blunt. A pin on your lapel, a yellow ribbon decal on your car, a text message posted to a slick, public-relations Web page: None do anything to tell the troops you appreciate their sacrifices.
The warriors here in Iraq are men and women of action — and action is what impresses them. Action — not words — can change the world, and it is never fast or easy.
So this holiday season rather than giving in to the convenience of a text message to the troops, consider instead a gesture with meaning. It can be a simple thing — as simple as a letter written by a second-grader.
And I promise it doesn't require a corporate sponsor.
Matt Morgan is a major in the Marine Corps and works in the Media Operations Center for the Multi-National Force in Iraq.