When students in Stillmore, Georgia, were kindergartners, they formed a special bond with a pen pal who was deployed in Iraq.
Fast forward 13 years and those students, who are now seniors in high school at David Emanuel Academy, got a special visitor last week.
Vincente Buggs, who is now a brigadier general, drove more than six hours from his Tampa home to visit the students who had sent him mail when he was deployed.
"It was a great relief for me to say thank you," Buggs told Good Morning America. "Everyone is always saying thank you to me for my service but it meant more for me to be able to say thank you to them."
The relationship between the school kids in the town of less than 1,000 people and a deployed soldier started through Buggs’ effort to stay in touch with happenings back home.
During one of his three tours of duty, Buggs reached out to the alumni office at his alma mater, Georgia Southern University, to see how the football team was doing and to inquire about happenings on campus.
Through those conversations, an employee in the alumni office asked if Buggs would be willing to send back pictures of Christmas in Iraq to help with a project her niece’s kindergarten class was working on, according to GMA.
But Buggs went above and beyond. He sent a story about a gingerbread man who had stolen a camel’s water to represent how important water is in Iraq and how hot it gets in the region, a mother of one of the kindergartners recalled.
But it didn’t stop there, Buggs later sent the kids American flags that had been flown in Iraq, along with certificates with each of the student’s names on them. A picture of the kids with their flags was published in the local paper at the time.
The group of students and the far-away soldier continued exchanging letters and care packages.
"When you’re sitting in your [bunker] by yourself and you’ve been deployed a few months and the loneliness is there, the letters from home, you get them and it changes your perspective of what you’re dealing with,” Buggs said.
So last week, when Buggs was en route to alumni weekend at Georgia Southern, he took the opportunity to thank the students in person.
Six of the class of 13 students still attend the school.
"I never thought through the years that we’d affected his life as much as we did," student Jenna Mosley told GMA. "He said letters from us would turn his day around."
During the visit, Buggs encouraged the students, asked about their future plans and implored them to find small ways to show kindness to others.
"Everybody can make an impact and do something positive,” he said.
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