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"Okay men, listen up. I want each of you to sit down this evening and write a letter home. I know that each of you will be telling your family how much you love the United States Army. Is that fully understood?" asked Sergeant O'Roauke, the field first of our squad.

"YES, SIR!" screamed the entire platoon of men.

"DISMISSED!" he bellowed.

There were soldiers running in every direction heading back to their individual barracks. I was 16 years old and this was my third week of Basic Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I generally stayed in the barracks when ‘mail call’ was announced. Why would I go running like a maniac when the mail arrived? I mean I did not have a family and I was very sure that the orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida was not going to be sending me any goodwill wishes.

I would sit on my bunk and shine my boots trying not to notice the commotion; the other men received handfuls of mail and packages from home. I have to admit that it did bother me a little bit when I saw them eating cookies their parents had sent. Overall, it did not really bother me. I did not have anyone who would write and that is just the way it was. There was nothing I could do about it, so I tried not to think about it.

After showering, I dressed and headed over to the PX Store. I purchased a coke and a package of cheese crackers, and then sat down at one of the small tables. As I finished my Coca Cola and started to get up, Sergeant O'Roauke came walking in.

"What are you doing in here soldier?" screamed the sergeant.

"Drinking a coke."

"Hit the deck and give me 25," he ordered.

I immediately hit the floor and started counting out the push-ups as I performed them.

"Why aren't you in the barracks writing to your family as I instructed?"

"I don't have a family, sir," I replied as I continued to do push-ups.

"I don't give a rat’s tail if you have a family or not. I told you to write home."

"But I don't have a home, sir."

"Then where the hell did you come here from, soldier?" he questioned.

"I came from an orphanage, sir."

The sergeant took his foot and kicked one of my arms out from under me, causing my chest to hit the floor. Then he put his foot in the middle of my back and pressed down as hard as he could.

"Don't you be handing me that line of bull crap, son."

“Really sergeant, I do not have any family. Really I don't.”

"You get your butt back over to the barracks, right now. You write me a letter and you bring it to me. Understand?" he shouted.

"But, who do I write it to?"

"I don't give a darn if you write to Santa Clause. You write a letter and you have it to me by 1800 hours."

"Yes, sir" I said as I got up off the floor.

I walked back to my barracks, and borrowed a tablet and pencil from one of the men in my squad. I sat down on my bunk and wrote the following letter.

“Dear Santa Clause,

I am now living at Fort Gordon. I am in the army now. The army is my new home. I am learning a lot about how to win a war. I can shoot and run very fast. I am making my very own money and I am going to be a real soldier someday.

Roger Dean Kiser”

I took the letter, placed it in an envelope and sealed it. I walked over to the Orderly Room and asked to see the sergeant. I was advised that he was not in the office and that I should place the letter on his desk. I placed the sealed envelope on the corner of his desk and returned to the barracks.

At nine o’clock, the lights were out and everyone was in their bunk. I lied there thinking about how hard life was in the army. I said a prayer asking God to help me keep up with the other men as we trained. Just as I was about to fall asleep, the lights came on.

"Where is that little piece of crap?" demanded Sergeant O'Rouake as he came walking between the bunks.

I sat up in bed and watched the sergeant as he stomped down the isle and stopped at the foot of my bunk. The other men also sat up, but remained perfectly quiet.

"What is this garbage?" asked the sergeant as he shook the letter I had written.

"It's the letter you told me to write."

"Read this letter out loud," he instructed throwing it on the foot of my bunk.

Slowly, I picked up the letter and began to read,

"Dear Santa Clause,

I am now living at Fort Gordon. I am in the army now. The army is my new home. I am learning a lot about how to win a war. I can shoot and run very fast. I am making my very own money and I am going to be a real soldier someday.”

The entire barracks began to laugh and whistle as loud as they could.

"SHUT UP!" yelled Sergeant O'Rouake.

The barracks became perfectly quiet.

"You think I'm an idiot?" asked the sergeant.

"No sir, Sergeant O'Rouake, sir."

The large man reached down, grabbed my footlocker and turned it upside down. The contents spilled all over the floor.

"But I only wrote what you told me to write," I said.

"I told you to write home!" he argued.

"No sir, Sergeant. I told you that I did not have any family and you told me to write to Santa Clause. That's why I don't get any mail here, ‘cause I don't have a home."

All the men in the barracks looked at each other. One of the men sitting on the side of his bed began to laugh.

"Santa Clause!" he said laughing aloud.

Everyone then stared at him and he stopped laughing.

"Clean up this mess and report to me in the morning," he yelled.

As the sergeant left the barracks, he turned out the light leaving me to pack my footlocker in the dark. About a week later, I was shocked to hear my name called out for mail call.

"KISER, KISER, KISER," yelled the man as he set three packages aside.

Over the next three weeks of my basic training, I received seven more packages of cookies and hard candy in the mail. I never knew from whom they came from. There was no return address on the packages. I could only guess that they came from families of the men in my platoon. Maybe even from Sergeant O'Rouake himself.

That night as I lied in my bunk after sharing cookies and candy with all the other men, I knew for sure that the United States of America was a wonderful place. I had finally found something in my life worth defending and dying for.

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