The 5 Secrets I Learned to Nailing Army Basic Training Letters

The 5 Secrets I Learned to Nailing Army Basic Training Letters

When you’re a new, young Army wife, you hear it all.  “Wow, I could never do what you guys are doing!”  “I didn’t think you were the military-type.”  “Eh, time will fly by.  He’ll be back before you know it!”  “How are you going to afford anything on such a small paycheck?”  “Let me guess…you guys got married for the money.”  “Don’t you love that uniform?”  The list goes on and on!  But amid all the helpful and less-than-helpful comments are usually buried a few golden pieces of advice.   Along the way, I heard a few secrets that really ended up being true about writing letters to my husband while he was at Army Basic Training.

1. Write Him EVERY DAY.

This was the best advice I ever got, hands down.  It’s not that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write him every day, but reading stories about girls who never missed a day really motivated me!  I made it a point to never skip writing him, and it was amazing.  Writing ended up being therapeutic for me.  It was a good way for me to collect my thoughts at the end of the day.  And it really helped build communication in our new marriage too.   Because of the frequency of our letters, we didn’t have to sacrifice sharing the “little” things of every day life and also the “big things” that we needed to talk about: my job, our moving plans, etc.  My husband said getting a letter from me every day (even a pile up from a few days of no-mail) was a huge morale booster and made all the difference in the world.  He liked knowing that I made him a part of my day, every day, and I liked making him a part of my day.

2.  Wait for the Commander’s Letter.

I had no idea what this was at first.  During the first two 30-second phone calls he got, I thought he would tell me what his address was.  Some girls thought they were supposed to get this from the Recruiter before their solidiers left.  What I eventually came to find out is that the commander publishes a letter about 14 days after Basic Training begins.  He waits until then, because by that time, the soldiers have almost completed their Red Phase (the tough and gruff phase that helps them detox from the world they have previously known).  A lot of letters from home would interrupt the mental training they are putting the soldiers through, and so he purposefully waits to send the letter out for a bit.  When it DOES arrive, it will have all the information you need to address your letter.

It is possible (likely) your soldier will have sent you a few letters before you get the commander’s letter.  If your soldier is in Reception, his location is extremely temporary and will be changing within a week.  He probably won’t even put a return address on his envelope.  There is no mail distribution at Reception and so letters cannot be sent to soldiers during that time.  If your soldier writes you from Basic Training camp, the return address he uses is all you need–as long as he remembered to put down his Unit information and roster number.  In that case, you could technically send a response to that address, but again, your letters probably won’t be delivered until Red Phase is almost over.  And it still might be prudent to wait until you get the Commander’s letter, just to verify that you have all the information needed to address your envelope.  Read this for a detailed explanation on how to address them.

3. If You have Questions, Write those Last in your Letter, or as a PS.

This one helped me construct my letters a little more carefully.  I tend to write down things as I think of them.  But I learned it was so much easier for my husband to remember (and answer) my questions if I ended my letter with them.  It’s a good rule to practice in any letter-writing circumstances, but is especially helpful for Basic Training letters.  The soldiers’ free time is only an hour or so long in the evening, right before lights out.  Their free time is split between doing laundry, writing you, reading your letters, and whatever else they need/want to do.  So streamlining the information you need from them is just an extra way to make their life easier–and ensure you get the answers you need!

4.  Number your Letters

Obviously, I wrote the date on the top of my letters.  I also numbered the pages because I wrote long letters with identical stationary.  Oops.  But numbering my letters became really helpful during the times that mail call was skipped and my letters built up.  My husband said it happened quite often that my letters would be delivered in a stack.  I didn’t want to mark the outside of my envelope (see why here). But on the initial fold of each letter, I wrote the number of the letter as well as the date.  While the date would work too, numbering the letters felt like a mini-countdown.  My husband liked how easy it was to know which letter should be read first out of a stack of 11.  Numbering probably wouldn’t be a super necessary step if you only write once a week or so, but if you write daily, consider numbering them!

5. Make a Letter Writing Station on your Desk

As I said, I was absolutely determined not to miss a day in writing my soldier.   But the “secret” behind my success was setting aside a non-negotionable time every night to write him a letter.  And I kept all my stationary needs well-stocked: stamps, paper, and pre-addressed envelopes.  I know it sounds silly to pre-address envelopes.  But I found that if I had everything “ready-to-go” then it was much less intimidating to sit down and write a letter.  Even if I was tired, all I had to do was pull out a piece of paper and write a few thoughts or reflections down.  Then everything else was all set-up.   It also was rewarding to slowly use up my designated stack of envelopes or roll of stamps.  I guess when you miss someone that much, any little daily countdown is a motivator!  See this post for supplies I recommend keeping in your writing station!

In this world of advice-givers, you’ll probably run into a lifetime supply of opinions on how you should handle Basic Training as a loved one.  It can be frustrating, especially when it’s coming from someone who has never been in your shoes.  But as someone who has, hopefully something in here can help you the way it helped me.  And if none of it helps, consider visiting one of these sources to get a better idea about Basic Training and letter-writing advice.  If you have some words of wisdom of your own to share, please do so in the comment section below!  One of your secrets could be the key to someone else’s Basic Training survival story.  Thanks for stopping by!

Read Next: Army Basic Training: Letter Writing Myths

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Army Basic Training: 5 (Emotional) Letter Writing Myths

Army Basic Training: 5 Emotional Letter Writing Myths

I wrote a post a few months back about 5 practical myths you’ll run into when sitting down to write a letter to your soldier in Basic Training.  Unfortunately, there are more myths than just those 5. I even wrote about those.  The truth is, many myths aren’t all as cut-and-dry as we would hope.  There are a lot of emotional myths (welcome to life in the Army) and I’m here today to bust those.

Maybe I’m the only one, but separation and lack of communication are usually a recipe for self-doubt and overthinking everything.  It’s easy to try to shoulder the “blame” because as Army wives, we are used to (or getting used to) stepping up to the plate.  It’s a nice quality, but it has to be tempered with reason.  If you haven’t been hearing from your soldier, or you have, but communications just feel “off,” it is likely you might start pointing fingers at yourself.  Your letters are NOT to blame.  Don’t submit to self-doubt, and definitely don’t begin to believe these common emotional lies:

1. My Letters are Getting Old

They aren’t.  I know I haven’t read any of yours, but I can tell you, they aren’t getting old.  Receiving a letter at Basic Training is like Christmas morning for the boys.  You might be that girl that sends a letter once every few weeks, and to your soldier, those are gold.  But if you are that girl who writes him every day (hi, everyone!) you might be wondering if you’re letters are getting old.  They aren’t.  In fact, there is an unspoken competition among the soldiers (generally) about who gets letters and how often.  Not only will you give your soldier a pick-me-up, but you’ll stroke his ego in front of the guys.  If you’re still in doubt, ask yourself this.  Have his letters or phone calls gotten old?  Are you sick of hearing from him?  No.  It works both ways.

2. My Letters are Too Long

Imagine being in a big hospital room with a bunch of other patients and their beds…the lights stay on and there is a continual chatter of noise.  You’ve been given an hour to chill but you have nothing to do.  You have no personal belongings to entertain yourself with–except a letter that just arrived.  The longer, the better.  This is how the soldiers (can) feel.  They aren’t in hospital beds, but they are in big shared spaces with “free time” and nothing to do.  Don’t shy away from writing long letters!  It’s perfectly fine if you’re not a wordy person, just write in the length of style you’re comfortable with.  But if you can write up several pages, go for it!  Don’t hold back just because you are assuming your lengthy letters are annoying.  They aren’t.

3.  My Letters Aren’t Positive Enough, or They are Too Positive

It’s a fine line.  You don’t want to gush about how great life is for you, because you know more than likely he isn’t having the time of his life.  But you don’t want to write drippy and depressing letters because you want to boost his morale, not bring him down.  It’s a personal preference thing, but I found that honesty is the very best course.  If I was feeling down, I wrote about it.  But I tried to balance it out with a positive story or occurrence from my day, to keep the letter from being a “downer.”  Basic Training was just too long of a time span for me to “bite-the-bullet” and just push through emotional conflict.  As newlyweds, I found it was vital to be 100% honest with my husband (and I still do!) because those first few months of marriage are a tender time to build communication skills.  You can’t let Basic Training get in your way.  Be honest and don’t overthink the positivity-level of your letters.

4. My Letters Just Depress Him

So, again, I haven’t read your letters.  But do you have concrete proof that your letters are depressing him, or are you just assuming that?  Try to remember that missing someone isn’t the same as never wanting to hear from them again.  If your soldier has specifically told you that getting letters from home makes him extra homesick, then try to work on your style a bit.  (see above)  If you’ve been sending tons of “downer” letters, try to dial it back.  Or if you’ve been sending extremely peppy letters about how amazing life is back on the ranch, maybe it’s making it harder for him to be away from all that.  Whatever you do, don’t assume your letters are depressing him, unless he specifically tells you so.

5.  My Letters Should Mirror His

Am I the only person who thinks this way?  Sometimes there can be a communications-pressure to try to “stick” to whatever your soldier is doing.  If he is opening up emotionally, you should swoop in with your own emotional update. If he seems down, your letters should be equally as “ho-hum” because you wouldn’t want him to feel like you guys are emotionally imbalanced.  But I’m going to appeal to sticking with the truth again.  Don’t feel bad if he is writing super detailed letters, or sleepy vague ones, or even self-examining monologues.  Unless you talk in person identically, there is no need to write identical letters.  It’s perfectly fine for him to be writing letters that dive heavily into what his daily training is like, while you stick to some fairly round-about updates on school and your job.  Overthinking or manipulating your letters into some kind of mirror effect will only stress you out and keep you from freely speaking the truth.

Hopefully, none of these emotional myths EVER crossed your mind.  Don’t let me put ideas in your head!  But in case you are human and some of these slipped into your mind during those long Basic Training nights of separation, don’t feel like you’re the only one.  Just know that there are hundreds of Army wives/fiancees/girlfriends going through all the same Basic Training nights with you.  And there are many resources you can turn to, either for support or fellowship with people who are or have been in your shoes.

Now go write your soldier a letter!

**Are you doing it right?  Read next: How to Address a Basic Training Letter**

 

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Why “Its Different for Everyone”

Why It's Different for Everyone -- Understanding the Mixed Info You Receive

I think one of the most frustrating responses I get as an Army wife is “But…it’s different for everyone.”  When my husband left for Basic Training, I had so many questions.  When would we find out his next assignment?  When would we get dates for moving?  Would he be allowed to come get me and help me move or did I have to do it myself?  Would the Army make the arrangements for moving or did I need to?  Etc…etc…etc!

Whether I was reading an article online, or talking to a representative on the support line, often the answer was cushioned with the precaution…”but, it’s different for everyone.”  That nebulous phrase was a difficult one to handle because all I wanted was an exact answer, and nobody could guarantee one!  But after I found out the answers to all my questions (though more still arise as the year goes on) I finally understand why everyone kept telling me that.

If the question related to how my soldier was going to be treated, it “varied” because the chain of command varied by individual.  So at Basic, if I wondered if my soldier would get to call me, it varied on the personality of the drill sergeant, and how well the rest of my soldier’s platoon buddies were behaving.   If my question was about moving, it varied on the timing and situation of my move.  So if my soldier was currently in an Army training school, then no, he couldn’t just stop and come help me move.  However, if he was assigned to a unit, then his chain of command would give him the opportunity to come and help me PCS.  Lastly, if my question was a more broad one, like “what are our options for places we could get assigned to?” it all just depends on your soldier’s MOS (basically his position in the Army).  Infantry typically get assigned to certain stations, and Tankers get assigned to other certain stations, etc.

Maybe no one will ever be in the exact same situation as you, but there are often social media support groups where you can try to find someone who has been in a similar boat–or is in it too!  Always be careful not to post anything too detailed or private, depending on the situation, as it might endanger your soldier.  But don’t be afraid to find a battle buddy…and remember you can always ask me!  I might not know the answer, but I may know someone that does!

While it didn’t help at the time to hear “but…it’s different for everyone,” at least now I know why people always said it.  And even though I still don’t enjoy hearing it when I’m trying to get an answer, at least I know they are right!  Hopefully, the next time you hear it, you won’t mind as much too!

 

**Read next– 3 Surprise Realities About the Army Life**

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