U.S. Army soldier makes surprise visit to 11-year-old pen pal - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

U.S. Army soldier makes surprise visit to 11-year-old pen pal


An 11-year-old Columbus girl wanted to do something special to support troops fighting overseas, so she wrote a letter to a soldier in Afghanistan. On Sunday, she found out just how much that simple gesture meant to the sergeant who received it.

The story began over six months ago when a Katie Grace Hartley wrote a Christmas card to an unknown Army engineer who was deployed to Kandahar Province.

"So I thought, hey, why don't I just sit down and write a letter and see who it goes to," said Katie Hartley. 

The soldier's wife, Nancy Bell, said, "It said that she was praying for him and she was proud of him and she hoped that one day maybe she could meet him.  And later on, I heard that because she didn't hear anything back, she thought that maybe the soldier had been killed there and her letter never made it." 

It turned out that soldier is alive and well, but the timing of the troop withdrawals caused mail to be delayed and even shut down altogether.  It's a wonder that this one letter was still delivered.

"We were informed by higher command that we were not receiving any further mail, due to our pushing out and returning to the states. And prior to leaving, I received her letter," said Sgt. Richard Gromek of the 63rd Engineer Battalion.

"He said, ‘I don't know how it got through, but it got through'. And he was so impressed, when he got back he went and told Nancy, 'I have got to go and meet this young lady,'" said Katie's grandfather, Bob Hartley. 

Hartley is the owner of North Side Barber Shop and knows Sgt. Gromek's wife, Nancy, as a frequent customer. Immediately after returning to Fort Benning, Sgt. Gromek got in touch with him and set up a surprise appearance to meet Katie.

"She just got back from Florida with her family, she has no clue that this is going to go down today," said Hartley.

"I missed my husband and to know that there was some little girl who had never met him who was caring for him and praying for him- I was so touched by a total stranger," said Bell.

Sgt. Gromek arrived with a bouquet of flowers and expressed his deepest appreciation for Katie's heartfelt letter.

"I don't know how to explain it, I'm just very happy right now," said Katie Hartley.

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