GEORGETOWN, KY. • On Christmas Day somewhere in Afghanistan, a Navy fireman named Greg put on his “magic Santa hat” and, as directed, handed out cards to 300 of his fellow troops.
All because of 10-year-old Addi Fletcher.
Greg is one of hundreds of active-duty military whom the Georgetown girl refers to as “my soldier friends,” and every week for the past four years, she has written a letter to at least one service member in Iraq or Afghanistan. She has sent care packages at least twice a month. And, at one point, she decided she had to adopt 100 members of the military.
“What’s neat about Addi is her dedication,” said Patti Patton-Bader, who founded the nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels program that matches Addi with her pen pals. “She just put her nose to the grindstone and really got it.”
It all started when Addi was 7. Her aunt Debra Molczyk signed up to be an angel and enlisted the help of her nieces. Addi’s older sister Myah, now 12, wrote a few letters but soon moved on. Molczyk expected that Addi would, too.
But she didn’t.
Week after week, Addi would put pen to paper. To her, it seemed simple, she said. The troops were lonely. She could help. She would send them a little love.
Plus, she got to do what she liked.
“I was really into writing,” Addi said. “I would just go up into my room and write and stuff.”
When she was younger she would draw dogs or trees or pictures of the world we are all a part of, and tell the service members about her family and her life. She’d talk about how she liked to skateboard and things that happened at school. Early on, she took a picture of herself in camouflage with a second-grader’s version of a snarling “soldier face.”
She would ask her pen pals questions like: “Do all Iraqi kids have black hair?” or “Are the bad guys really scary?” When one of her soldier friends would lose a buddy, she’d write condolences as only a child could.
“I am so sorry. I know they were your friend and you are sad. I will say a prayer for you.”
She would draw guardian angels for her pen pals to make them feel better and help keep them safe.
“I don’t think she realized how much it meant to them,” Molczyk said.
Some of the troops started to write back. Sometimes she would be writing four or five service members at a time. She started to think of ways to make them smile and have a little fun herself.
Take the “splat cake.”
For her eighth birthday she decided she would have two cakes: one for eating and one for splatting into face-first. She took pictures before, during and after, with her face smeared with icing, to send to her pen pal.
Plus, she said, “that was fun.”
In the third grade, she was corresponding with an officer who mentioned how great it would be if the 100 men and women under his command had a friend like Addi. He also mentioned that Iraq was dry and that ChapStick was in high demand.
“She just took it in her head that she had to do something for all 100 soldiers,” her aunt, said. But that would be too expensive, Molczyk told her, making Addi cry.
“We’ve got to do something,” Addi said. “They’ve got to know we love them.”
So without consulting any grown-ups, Addi walked into the office at her school, Garth Elementary in Georgetown, and asked the staff to make an announcement that she was collecting ChapStick for her soldiers.
“I guess I just thought that we didn’t have enough money to send something,” she said, “and that at Garth there were lots of teachers and kids” who could help.
And they did.
Every month for nine months Addi’s soldier friends each received care packages of some sort. Gum or SweeTarts, something small. At Christmas, all the kids at school signed a banner for the troops.
Sometime after that, Addi started sending her service members “Lucky Duckies,” small yellow, rubber ducks wearing camouflage jackets. Her troops wrote back that they had given them names, kept them near their bunks at night or hung them from their packs when they went into the field.
Addi’s aunt jokes that when they see news footage of the war, they are always on the lookout for Lucky Duckies.
“It’s just a matter of time before we see one,” she said.
Not one of Addi’s soldier friends has died.
Their needs, sometimes, go beyond a letter or trinket. One needed a laptop. Another needed a new uniform because his Army-issued clothes had become worn and he needed to send home all the money he could to support a family.
Although the troops have never asked for anything, Molczyk said, Addi — with the help of her aunt and mother, Dana, and father, Gary — has always managed to find a way to offer something extra when it was needed.
There have been various fundraisers over the years. Lemonade stands, yard sales. The latest is a cookbook for dogs inspired by Molczyk’s dog, Poochie, who is the cover model of Dog Gone Goodies. All the money goes back to Soldiers’ Angels.
Some of her soldier friends have sent Christmas presents to Addi. One flew a flag over one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces and sent it to her as a thank you. Another would never fail to mention Addi, a bit of a tomboy who likes playing on the wrestling mat in her basement, when he called home to his mother.
The list of Addi’s friends has grown long over the years. Soldiers’ Angels asks that the full names of the service members not be revealed publicly, but Addi can recite some of them.
“Jennifer, Amber, John, two Chrisses, Bradley ... Greg.”
That last name would be the Navy fireman who wore the “magic hat” on Christmas.
“I am giving you this magic hat because I see you are on the nice list,” she wrote, adding that her Aunt Debra, for reasons not to be disclosed, was residing on Santa’s naughty list. “You have to wear it when you pass out the cards.”
The cards he handed out were signed by kids at Addi’s school.
In organizing her project, she has learned something about trying to direct children. “I told them all not to draw stuff like guns,” she said. “Half of them drew guns.”
Patton-Baden of Soldiers’ Angels said she hopes Addi’s work might inspire some others to pick up a pen, especially now that a troop surge is under way. As the conflict has dragged on, Patton-Baden said, the public has undergone something she calls “empathy fatigue.”
Although she’s a busy kid, in the school choir, drum ensemble and on the academic team, she’s sure she’ll keep writing her military friends. She’s not sure she will keep it a school project as she moves into middle school, but she’ll do her part, somehow.