TOM BEAN — Tom Bean Police Chief John Hunt has a large poster of John Wayne prominently displayed on the wall of his small office, a centerpiece of sorts among memorabilia from a 20-year career in the Special Forces. Talking with Hunt, it’s easy to see why he identifies with The Duke; Hunt projects a no-nonsense vibe that’s about as warm as a winter’s dawn.

TOM BEAN — Tom Bean Police Chief John Hunt has a large poster of John Wayne prominently displayed on the wall of his small office, a centerpiece of sorts among memorabilia from a 20-year career in the Special Forces. Talking with Hunt, it’s easy to see why he identifies with The Duke; Hunt projects a no-nonsense vibe that’s about as warm as a winter’s dawn.


But when he discusses the day that the Tom Bean chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions approached him about writing letters to some of the nation’s wounded soldiers, his smile turns as tender as a father’s embrace.


"At the end of the last (school) year, the kids started talking about writing letters to soldiers, and I thought, ‘Hey let’s do it. Been there, done that,’" said Hunt, a two-tour Vietnam veteran. "They started talking about Thanksgiving, and I said ‘OK, here’s your opportunity. You’ve got this program, and you’ve got these guys that are tore up, or they’re hurt in Afghanistan and Iraq. This would be a good time to write letters to those people.’ And they thought that was a great idea."


Over the next few months, Tom Bean middle schoolers penned dozens of letters to injured veterans involved in the U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition Command at Ft. Hood. SADD chapter Co-president Abby Farrer said the effort was a chance to solve a problem about which she was already familiar.


"I have a cousin who’s in the Army and he loves it," said Farrer. "But he talks all the time about how he works with guys and they’re like ‘Man, I don’t have a family; nobody writes me letters; I’m just sad.’ And I was like, ‘Well you know what?’ That’s really cool that actually we do send letters to some of the people that are hurting, and we can make them feel better. It means a lot to them that there are kids who do care."


Master Sgt. Howard Day, who works as an action office with the U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition Command, said letter-writing campaigns like the initiative in Tom Bean are more rare than people realize.


"Some of our wounded warriors will go and do some kind of presentation at a school and talk about some of the challenges that they face," Day said, "but for the students to take the time to write personal letters, that doesn’t happen very often."


Day is familar with what it means to face the long hours of lonely rehab as a member of the WWP. A 28-year veteran of the armed forces, he endured seven months in the program after sustaining a knee injury in Afghanistan that left him unable to walk. When Day set about looking for a way to recognize the Tom Bean students for their efforts, he contacted troops half-a-world away to assist.


"We reached out to our soldiers in Afghanistan and told them what was going on, that these middle school students were taking the time to write these letters, and we wanted to do something special to recognize their efforts," explained Day. "So the soldiers in Afghanistan flew a flag over Bagram Air Base … for nine hours and 11 minutes, in recognition of the Tom Bean SADD Chapter, and their concern for our soldiers and their families."


And so it was that Day stood Friday in the gymnasium of Tom Bean Middle School and presented Farrer and her Co-president Hunter Phillips with a battle-tested flag to recognize their work.


"When you get some middle school students from a town like Tom Bean to reach out to the wounded warriors and say, ‘Hey, we appreciate all you’ve done for your country,’ that means a lot," said Day. "We were very moved by the fact that they wanted to do that, very impressed that they have that kind of compassion and concern for service members."


Phillips, a Tom Bean 8th Grader, said the motivation for students is simple: "Some of them are hurting and they need encouragement to get them to feel better to serve again. (Letter writing) doesn’t really happen much, and if it does, it’s awesome."