Soldier Surprises Former 'Pen Pals' 13 Years Later

When he found out he would be near their school, he knew he had to meet the students who showed him kindness over a decade ago.

When a kindergarten class at David Emanuel Academy, a small Christian school in Stillwell, GA, began writing letters to Brigadier Gen. Vincent Buggs (who was Major Buggs at the time) 13 years ago, they had no idea the impact they would have on his life.

The correspondence started when Buggs was on his second tour in Iraq. It was set up through the alumni association at Georgia Southern University, Buggs' alma mater. A woman who worked at the office knew of a gingerbread man project that her young relative was doing with her kindergarten class to learn about other cultures, and they needed someone to take pictures with the gingerbread man in other parts of the world.

Buggs agreed to help the students with their project and he started sending them photos and letters as he traveled with the military.

"I started taking the gingerbread man and writing stories to the kids and sending them back to them, and then it kind of morphed because the kids started sending me stuff," Buggs told FOX-10 Phoenix . "And then over the years as I was traveling, I would send them something, and then after a while we were just coordinating back and forth."

He even had American flags flown for each of the students, which he sent to them with letters of authenticity. A news photographer took a picture of the class with their flags for a local newspaper.

When Buggs, who currently lives in Tampa, FL, recently visited his alma mater in Georgia for a military appreciation weekend, he arranged a surprise visit with the students, who are now seniors at David Emanuel Academy.

Buggs admits he was "more than nervous" to meet the students, but he wanted to make sure they knew the impact they had on him as a lonely soldier in the U.S. Army.

"I had anxiety of how it would play out because you're a stranger and they don't realize the impact," Buggs said.

When they did meet, the school shared a post to Facebook with pictures of Buggs and his former "pen pals."

The students and Buggs shared a heartwarming conversation where they talked about college, family, and life in general.

"We all started talking about life, and I just explained to them that sometimes the simple thing of kindness is very important and sometimes you don't realize because you don't see the effect of it, even if you're 5 years old."

Buggs, who now has 5 daughters of his own, wanted the students to know how crucial it is to show your appreciation for someone's kindness any chance you get.

"I really, really suggest to service members that if you get an opportunity to personally face-to-face thank someone, take that opportunity," he said. "It may change somebody's life by going and saying thank you."

Feeling inspired to write your own letters to members of the U.S. military? Here are a few organizations that can help you get started:

Operation Gratitude

Doing Good Together

Support Our Troops

Let's work together and #StartSomethingGood .

(Source: images David Emanuel Academy Facebook )

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