Minnesota Teen Supports Troops With Letter-Writing Campaign
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2004 Too young to don a uniform and actively fight the war on terror, Jeremy Jenson, 16, is doing the next best thing. He's supporting those doing the fighting
Jenson, of Anoka, Minn., will be a junior at nearby St. Francis High School in the fall. He has spent nearly 18 months making sure that many deployed troops in Afghanistan and Iraq get something at mail call. But if not for persistence, and some help navigating the proper channels, his efforts would not be reaching those troops.
Maj. Rick Miller of the 19th Corps Material Management Center, right, presents Jeremy Jenson with an Iraqi uniform and beret July 10 in Arden Hills, Minn. Jenson and his friends wrote to Miller's unit while they were deployed in Iraq. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Just after the war started, Jenson, hearing bad news from the Middle East, decided to do something positive.
Jenson began e-mailing the webmaster of the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minn. Randall Ciechna, the unit's chief information officer, said the request seemed simple enough -- Jenson wanted addresses of deployed soldiers so he could write letters of thanks. Initially, his efforts were met with rejection. However, "no" was not an acceptable answer for Jenson. He kept at it, angering some in the process, Ciechna said.
"We had our lawyers write him a letter that said 'You're interfering with government communications, and if you don't stop,' basically, 'we're gonna get mad at you,' " Ciechna said.
That official statement prompted Jenson to call Ciechna to find out exactly how much trouble he was in with the government. Only then, Ciechna said, did he realize Jenson was 14 and offering to help.
The best Ciechna could do was make contact with deployed service members in senior positions and provide Jenson's address. It was up to them and their troops to decided whether to communicate with the teen.
Plenty took Jenson up on his offer of correspondence.
Finding help to answer all those letters wasn't always easy, either. "It was a little touchy when I started," Jenson said.
But that seems to have changed. To date, with help from members of his church, friends, family and even his high school history class, he has mailed more than 1,000 hand-written letters and dozens of packages in support of deployed troops. For his efforts he has more than 100 e-mail pen pals, has received flags flown in Iraq from two different units and received countless thanks.
Not satisfied with his accomplishment, Jenson started a Web site to match would-be letter writers with addresses for troops interested in receiving mail. His home page, which includes links to military sites and a picture page where troops can post updates for family and friends, gets more than 2,000 hits a day.
It's this dedication that prompted Ciechna to nominate Jenson for the Commander's Award for Public Service. Brig. Gen. Michael W. Beasley presented Jenson with the award during the 88th RRC's annual awards banquet. At the time, Jenson was 15 and the youngest recipient of any medal awarded by the command, which serves the Midwest.
"When we saw the dedication that he had and for the period of time (he kept it up … we saw that he was really dedicated to the effort, that he was trying to help our soldiers and I submitted the award nomination … and our commanding general saw the effort and approved the award," Ciechna said. Young people, he added, often start things and don't stay with them, so Jenson's effort seemed particularly noteworthy.
At the beginning, that dedication put a crimp in his school style, Jenson said. "It kind of took over at the beginning of last year, and I had to get back on track. (Letter writing) was my priority over school work."
That changed and schoolwork improved, which is good, as Jenson said he wants to go to college and study computer science before joining the military. He is still "really into" the letter writing, though, and hopes to encourage more participation through his Web site. Ciechna said Jenson is well known and respected with in the 88th RRC. "He's destined to be in the military, and destined to be a leader," he said.