Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Thirsty

A little backstory to help this make sense...

My husband is in the military and has recently switched branches and so is now at his new command/duty station. In talking with some of his new coworkers, he discovered that one was a student of mine last year. Small world really. They share a common interest, so they have started to talk and not really become friends, but certainly bonded.

Most of my husband's new unit is deploying very soon, going "over there" (to maintain my anonymity and opsec, that's all I'll say) and this former student is deploying (my husband won't be going, the military has other plans for him...huge sigh of relief from me).

I remember this student. He was a good student, the type I love having in my classes because he was smart but doing well didn't just come to him, he had to work to get good grades and was more than willing to do so. Just remembering him says something - as an adjunct I have 200ish students a semester, so remember a single one a year later usually means he/she was a really good student (or a really, really terrible one, but he was one of the good, even great, ones).

I want to say something to him, wishing good luck or telling him to be safe while he's over there. Maybe just a verbal message from my husband, or a quick handwritten note to the tune of "be safe over there and come back in one piece because you're the kind of student (my university) needs and wants to have" or something (if I decide to write it down, I promise it will be more eloquent than that).

My question #1: Is this appropriate? Am I overstepping my bounds as a professor in sending this student good wishes while he's deployed? Or should I just pray for him and not say anything?

My question #2: If it is okay for me to say something, should I just send a verbal message through my husband or is a handwritten note okay too? Any ideas on what to say?

I don't want to be weird, but I do genuinely hope he stays safe over there (and certainly I hope all the members of my husband's unit do, but this one I actually really know...)


  1. I would say go ahead and write what you will. Were I "over there", I would appreciate such letters from the home front.

  2. I think that your student would appreciate the sentiment, as long as it's not gooshy.

  3. Of course it's okay! I echo Boaz's sentiments.

    Also, do not send the message through your husband. A handwritten note or an e-mail is the furthest distance you should be for it to mean anything. If it's possible, I'd say see him off.

    Tell him you remember what a hard worker he was and the the university, the country and the world need more like him.

  4. Agreed. Say it however you'd like. A handwritten note would be the nicer option. Were he my student he'd be on my church's care package list, too. And do pray. Prayer is probably the most important part.

  5. Yes, absolutely, say something - a handwritten note or a personal e-mail would be entirely appropriate. as would keeping in touch during the deployment.

    you might also ask if the soldier/sailor/marine/airman has an e-mail distribution list for his friends and family at home - and if so, ask to be included. personalized e-mails and phone calls can be few and far between, and usually reserved for a select few, but general updates via e-mail or facebook are pretty common.

    the world is too small and life too uncertain to let us pass up opportunities to show small mercies and kindnesses to one another. we shouldn't let our positions get in the way of human decency and compassion, I think.

  6. Oh yes, all of the above.

    I still think of the ROTC Navy Student I had in a small class, and hope he is OK.

  7. How would you feel if you DIDN'T send him the greeting? I think he'd be thrilled to get any good wishes.

  8. I second everyone's input and just add that you don't just have a connection with him as a student but also as an acquaintance through your husband. That strengthens the bond and should make you feel no "ookiness" in sending him well wishes (hand written or personal e-mail).

    Hard work and personable, appropriate behaviour deserves accolades in any venue. But he is putting his life on the line for the rest of us, so he deserves all the good wishes we can send!

  9. Oh, and as far as what to say....I would say something along the lines of:

    I appreciated your hard work and positive attitude in class. I'm sure that your work ethic and dependability will be an asset to your fellow soldiers. Be safe. Thank you for your service.

    Keep Maud Lin out of it!

  10. Dear Chloe,

    This is completely appropriate, and laudable for you to do. Think of how scared the poor kid is, and how he knows he can't show it! A hand-written note delivered by your husband would be fine.

  11. To keep it even MORe appropriate, you can refer to "my husband and I" as in "my husband and I look forward to hearing how you are doing.."

  12. As somebody who spent some time in more than one over there location (while in uniform and as a civilian): do this for for him. Something to consider: in the run up to deployment, plenty of attention will come from friends and family. A month later, when "ground hog day" has set in forward: that's when a note will really be welcome. Just do it!

  13. I've been there, though fortunately not during any shooting wars. Do it. And then do it again, later, during his deployment.

    There's not much that's appreciated more than notes like that, when you're a long way from home.

  14. I agree with everybody above: do it. The only danger I can see is that you might let the anxiety you would feel if your husband were going somehow spill over into the letter, and make the kid feel more rather than less anxious. So keep it on the professional side: heavy on expressions of respect, light on emotional expression. He's probably already got a mother and/or girlfriend unsuccessfully trying to conceal her worry (or not); he doesn't need to deal with another emotional female.

  15. I think it is entirely appropriate... refer to his hard work in your course, how you appreciate that in a student and just way you wish him well "over there".. It's nice, as a student, to realize that an overworked faculty member remembers you and thinks highly of you.

  16. Actually...

    As someone who teaches about 80% military students, I'd avoid the tried and true "stay safe." Apparently everyone and their mother says that, and all it does is remind them that they might not come home. And it's not like telling them to "stay safe" will result in any safer working conditions. Rather it just increases their anxiety.

    As a non-military person, I don't understand it, but the preferred messages seems to be THANKS. Thank you for your sacrifice. I appreciate all you do for "us." I guess it's the language they speak with each other.

    A note thanking him for his hard work overseas and mentioning that he was a very good student will lighten his step as he faces deployment.

  17. Do say/send something. Do not send it verbally through your husband. If it is an actual coworker relationship, you can mention your husband in the note (as in, husband and I), but if it is a supervisor/supervisee relationship, don't mention him. It's not a secret, but the note is from you, the former teacher, not from the boss.

    And I second the note in a month or two.

  18. As a non-military person, I don't understand it, but the preferred messages seems to be THANKS. Thank you for your sacrifice. I appreciate all you do for "us." I guess it's the language they speak with each other.

    Some debate on this one - for a fascinating discussion see the guest post on Tom Ricks' blog, BestDefense - and the followup series "Hating the Yellow Ribbon."

    Like Academic Monkey, I teach in an almost-entirely military environment--both students and colleagues--and "stay safe" seems to be about as common here as not. I wouldn't actively contradict what Academic Monkey says, above, but simply say that my experiences differ somewhat and your mileage may vary...

    What our military service members want from us--their acquaintances, friends, family, strangers--vary (imagine that! people have different ideas about what's acceptable and appreciated. . .)

    finally, a lot of "it" really does depend on where "over there" you're talking about - Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan - all "over there," all VERY, very different. And even within countries, certain units and certain MOS's and assignments will be more dangerous than others. So "stay safe" in one context may be perfectly OK, while in another it's kind of cruel. All that to say, you do have some additional information here that we don't have - so consider the circumstances when figuring out what to say - but by all means, write something and keep in touch.

  19. If you want to know precisely what to say in your note, see "Starship Troopers," by Robert Heinlein, in the scene where the protagonist (Johnny Rico, a soldier) gets an unexpected but much-welcome note from his old teacher, which he notes, "was like getting a letter from Santa Claus." I know, this is just a science-fiction novel, but it was written by an Annapolis graduate and Navy veteran whose description of what goes on in the military is without peer. Never mind the 1997 film adaptation: it didn't follow the book closely at all, and militarily was one of the worst films I've ever seen. (Long story.)

  20. Send him a note and a tin of Shortbread.

  21. I teach for the military and have done so in some hot zones. "Stay safe" and "thanks" are both fine in my experience. If he's in the Navy, you can wish him "fair weather and fallow seas."

    But virtually all of my students say that a little something in a care package is about 10 times nicer than just the message. Even things like a toothbrush or coffee, anything home baked, reading material or clean socks...a connection to home is great.


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