Little things like letters go a long way toward bringing comfort to soldiers serving overseas. When a soldier who had received a letter from a school kid figured out who this letter was from 15 years later, he was shocked.
Ozaukee County Sheriff James Johnson arrived in Baghdad, Iraq, in June 2003. He and his unit conducted patrols and served with the Iraqi police.
Serving overseas is a difficult job, and it’s hard not to think about home.
During this time, many elementary schools in the U.S. had projects where their students would write letters to soldiers serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In December 2003, Johnson received one of these letters. American soldiers were receiving a lot of letters for the holidays. However, one in particular stood out for Johnson.
He noticed that the letter had been sent from a school in his home county in Wisconsin, which was particularly touching for Johnson.
“It was a nice message from a young fellow. Kids have a unique way of writing from their heart. It’s unfettered by anything else, it’s just what they’re feeling at the time,” Johnson explained to Humanity.
“Realizing that it’s a young person just writing what they’re feeling is important,” he said.
That was the end of the correspondence, but the letter had touched Johnson and he kept it safe. Johnson returned to the U.S. in July 2004, and resumed his duties as a police officer.
It was a long time ago, but Chris Uselding vaguely remembers some details about writing one of these kinds of letters when he was 11.
“I wanted to make it heartfelt, and just try and put something on there that soldiers would remember,” he told Humanity.
It was important to Uselding that soldiers overseas knew that people back home were thinking about them.
Uselding grew up and went to school in Ozaukee, the same county as Johnson. When he was 18, he was unsure of what he wanted to do.
His grandmother suggested he become a police officer.
“I was sitting on the floor at our house. I had no plan of what I wanted to do, and she told me she thought I’d look good in uniform,” Uselding recalled.
In July 2015, after attending the police academy, Uselding met Johnson—he was his new boss at the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office.
The two men worked together, side by side, for nearly three years. It was then that Johnson made a discovery.
Johnson was doing some spring cleaning and came across some of the old letters he had received in Iraq.
He found one letter that seemed oddly familiar, and he recognized the name. It was from Chris Uselding.
“I thought it was pretty neat. There was a connection that we had 14 or 15 years ago by me receiving this letter, and we didn’t know about it. Then you start thinking how many other times have those types of interactions occurred,” Johnson said.
After Johnson double-checked it was Deputy Uselding’s letter, he had it framed and hung it in the office without Uselding’s knowledge.
When Uselding came in he asked him why the letter was hanging on the wall. Uselding was confused and thought he must have sent it to the department.
Johnson then explained that Uselding had actually sent the letter to him in Iraq 15 years ago.
Uselding was more than surprised.
“I was kind of shocked. I didn’t realize that something I would have done 15 years ago would have appeared in my role call room as an adult. I thought it was pretty cool that we could share that,” he said.
Johnson enjoys law enforcement because he and his deputies have the ability to touch people’s lives, and make a difference.
This letter made a difference for Johnson.
“Small gestures can mean a lot,” he said.