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'Any Soldier' Letter Leads to 'Happily Ever After'

By Spc. Shauna McRoberts, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 29, 2003 – It was late November 1990 and the build-up of troops, equipment and supplies for the first Persian Gulf War had begun.

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Army Lt. Col. Mark Olinger, 1st Armored Division logistics officer, poses inside a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, in Baghdad, Iraq. Olinger met his wife, Sandy, through "Any Soldier" mail during the first Persian Gulf War. Courtesy photo

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During his time in Desert Storm, Olinger often visited Saudi Arabia's King Khalid Military City. During one visit for a planning conference, Olinger happened to grab a letter out of a stack of "Any Soldier" mail.

"I grabbed it because I liked the handwriting," said Olinger, now a lieutenant colonel serving in Iraq as the 1st Armored Division's logistics officer. "And it was different; it was addressed with purple ink."

The letter was from Sandy Martin, a middle school choir teacher from Quilan, Texas. Little did Olinger know that this particular letter would change the rest of his life.

"My dad was in the Army and my mom's dad was in the Army," said Sandy. "It was just our patriotic duty to be supportive (of the troops)."

Olinger called it a "standard, patriotic" letter and said he wrote back a few days later with "the normal response: 'Thank you for your support.'"

Within the next few weeks, Olinger received another letter from Sandy, and the two continued to correspond throughout the rest of the deployment.

"Her letters were nice and upbeat," said Olinger. "But there wasn't really a special connection."

However, when Olinger redeployed to Fort Bragg, N.C., in March 1991, Sandy extended an invitation for Olinger to visit her in Texas.

"Something intrigued me, probably something in one of her letters," said Olinger, who took her up on the offer to visit.

"I was excited to meet him," said Sandy. "But not because there had ever been anything romantic in our letters. We were a little too mature for that."

"I was looking forward to seeing her," said Olinger. "I even sent her flowers at school."

The two met in early May 1991. Olinger, on block leave, drove from North Carolina to Texas to see Sandy before flying to his home state of California.

"It was love at first sight, however silly that sounds," said Sandy. "It was just a chemical reaction. It struck me that I was just so comfortable to be around him from the start, and knowing already from our letters that we shared so many of the same beliefs and priorities in life made everything so easy."

"Right away we clicked," added Olinger.

The two spent several days together, dining at restaurants, visiting the Dallas fairgrounds and meeting Sandy's parents.

"The days were very fun and very relaxing," said Olinger. "They were good times."

Eventually, Olinger headed to California, but the two kept in touch by telephone while he was home on leave. "I couldn't eat a thing the whole two weeks he was gone," said Sandy.

When Olinger returned to Sandy's house he proposed. "I felt like she was the one," he said. Sandy accepted the proposal and six months later they were married. The Olingers celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary this month.

"During Desert Storm, I wrote 12 letters and ended up with six pen pals and one husband," joked Sandy.

"We'd barely known each other a year, and most of that time together was spent apart, but I have no regrets," said Olinger. "The two best things I've done in my life (have been to) join the Army and marry Sandy."

(Army Spc. Shauna McRoberts is assigned to 1st Armored Division public affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLt. Col. Mark Olinger, 1st Armored Division logistics officer, and his wife Sandy pose for a picture in April 2003, before Olinger deployed to Iraq. The couple met through "Any Soldier" mail during the first Persian Gulf War. Courtesy photo  
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