Guest commentary: Ill. students boost morale for Fort Polk soldiers

Published 8:56 am Thursday, April 13, 2023

By Spc. Kelly Acevedo | Public Affairs Office

FORT POLK — When I was in the fourth grade my teacher had my classmates and I write letters to her friend, a Marine who was overseas in Australia. She believed our letters could uplift him and his buddies.

Most kids thanked him and his peers for their service. I, on the other hand, shared my interest in the military, but told him my parents didn’t approve. He wrote back to us and in turn uplifted me and said to not be limited and go after whatever I want to do, even if that meant to serve against my parents wishes. So, I did.

Fast forward 15 years and I am now at the end of my four-year contract with the Army and have received my own letters from students thanking me and my buddies for our service. Reading the letters brought a nostalgic feeling along with the warm memory.

Students from Immaculate Conception Grade School, Elmhurst, Ill., sent heartfelt letters to the public affairs office for us to share with the installation. We partnered with the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program to hand out all the letters to soldiers on the installation at the Post Exchange.

The letters were fun to read and it was apparent that the soldiers were happy. A little morale boost is never a bad thing.

Here’s what a few of the Soldiers said back to the students.

“I appreciate it a lot! Thank you so much,” said Spc. Carlos Vargas, a dental specialist stationed with the Dental Activity Command.

“Thank you for the cards! They are sweet and boost morale,” said Spc. Aliyah Rattigan, an animal care specialist stationed with the Veterinary Clinic, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital.

“Thank you for your support! These cards always make our day,” said Sgt. Tafari Maragh, a combat engineer stationed with the 573rd Clearance Company, 46th Engineer Battalion.

I kept one letter that stood out to me and hung it up on my wall in my office. A student named Daniel wrote that he too wants to serve, but his parents won’t let him. He said he thinks all Soldiers are heroes like in the movies, but amazingly better. I made sure to keep this letter because it remined me of 8-year-old me.

Before I enlisted, it was a bit of a struggle to get my parents on board with me joining the military, which is understandable, but I am happy that I trusted my gut and enlisted in 2019. A lot of good came from that decision, especially the fact that joining made the process easier for my parents to become citizens.

My husband is also a soldier. The Army has given us opportunities to progress in our careers and provide for our son Santiago.

Anyone who has the courage to serve does something that less than 1% of the nation does. It’s great to do something bigger than yourself.

To Daniel, and all the kids who aspire to serve the nation, and those who don’t, do what makes you happy, regardless of what others may say or think. This applies to everything you set out to do.

Whether you want to be a photographer, a baker, a singer or actor, the world is at your fingertips. When you believe in yourselves, anything and everything is possible. Trust me.

Thank you to the teachers and staff who took the time to coordinate this amazing project. Although not expected, it was greatly appreciated.