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As Troops Prepare To Leave War Zone, Students Say Thank You

By Victoria Fydrych, Contributing Writer

In response to President Barack Obama’s pledge to bring home 10,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by January 2012, the Harvard College Veterans Engagement Initiative is running a four-month letter-writing campaign, thanking soldiers for their service.

The organization’s goal is to write and send 10,000 letters written by early January. HCVEI members pack and ship the letters to various bases in bundles of 50 letters.

“When they get back to the bases, there’s a message thanking them for what they’ve done,” said Service Project Leader Eliza L. Malkin ’13. To date, the group has gathered and packaged 2,000 letters, which are ready to be sent to bases.

Students were encouraged to write letters through emails sent out over house lists, which instructed students to drop letters off near the main entrance to Quincy Dining Hall.

Some letters were also generated through tabling events organized in every House dining hall as well as Annenberg.

Alex W. Palmer ’12, president of HCVEI, said the Annenberg session generated over 400 letters and significant student enthusiasm.

“We ran out of paper before we ran out of people,” Palmer said.

Within the next week, Malkin expects an influx of 1,000 letters due to community outreach to local high schools and colleges. Although most letters are written by Harvard students, the group has recently received letters from individuals outside of the University community, including elementary school students, grandparents of soldiers, and an ex-Marine. HCVEI members said letters are coming in from across the country.

“Part of the point is that the letters are coming from so many different places. It’s not one central location that’s churning out a letter from a computer,” Malkin said.

To personalize the letters, HCVEI encourages students to add a blurb about themselves. The group also emphasizes handwritten letters to make the notes more customized.

HCVEI—which boasts about 60 total members—previously ran a thank-you drive for a Harvard graduate serving overseas. However, the current drive is the largest HCVEI has ever organized.

Palmer said that the campaign—active since October—has received a significant student response.

“It was a very powerful experience to see people who were so willing to help out,” he said.

Malkin added that more student involvement would further the campaign’s goals.

“If every Harvard student could write two letters, which would take very little time, we could have more than enough,” she said.

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