One letter brought two families together in a bond of friendship which has grown only stronger through the years.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, with the military deployed in the Persian Gulf, many families throughout the country wanted to do something to show the military men and women that they were appreciated and thought of by those back home.
"As a family we had no relative there, but like everyone, wondered what we could do to help," said Kim Riley, of Clawson. "At that time our oldest daughter, Misty, was in the 9th grade."
Misty was enrolled in an English class taught by Rose Card, who had her students write a letter and address it to "Any Servicemember," and then send them to the Persian Gulf. Misty told her parents, Wade and Kim Riley, about it and they thought it was a great idea but never really expected anything to come of it.
Even though he heard often from his wife and family, in October of 1990, Rob Powers, who was serving aboard the USS Nassau, chose and opened an "Any Serviceman" letter. He said he had never heard of Clawson, Utah and the 8th grade student named Misty Riley was writing because of a class project. He said she asked the normal questions, but "something grabbed at me deep within. I guess I look back and think the class project got to me. I sat down and wrote her a letter."
About three to four weeks later, Misty received a letter from a Powers. He told her about himself and invited her to share her letter with her family.
They wrote back and forth continuing to involve other family members and Rob's wife, Wendy, who was at their home in Virginia Beach. At Christmas time, the Riley's sent Rob a care package of gifts. "We felt like we were finally doing something to support our troops," said Riley. "As time went on the letters continued and we developed a genuine love for this sailor and his wife, even though we had never met in person."
"We shared our faiths, our convictions, our thoughts of the pending crisis and our mortality," said Powers. "I am here to tell you that 10 years later the friendship is one that continues today."
One morning at about 2 a.m., the phone rang and the Riley's wondered what family member was hurt or sick. They heard a man's voice. It was Rob Powers who wanted them to know that he was finally on his way home and would contact them when he arrived.
For a few years, the two families tried very hard to meet in person, but things kept happening that prevented them getting together. Finally Rob, Wendy, and their first little girl came to Utah. "We finally got to meet the family we had grown to love," said Kim Riley. "They spent a few days with us and we felt an emptiness in our home when they left."
Eleven years have passed, but the love goes on. "We are family now," said Kim Riley, "not just friends." Rob has been stationed in Japan and now in Hawaii. The Rileys and Powers have been through a lot together as families: have shared beliefs, births of Rob and Wendy's three daughters, Misty's marriage, graduations, happy times and sad times.
Rob has sent mementos from Japan and other places he has traveled that the Riley's treasure. The families have met in person four times, the most recent in April.
The Powers family is currently stationed in Hawaii, where he has shore duty at Pearl Harbor. The Riley's have had word from him since Sept. 11, and he has assured them that he and family are well.
"Because of one letter from a small girl and a sailor taking the chance to write back to her, our lives have been blessed with the meeting of this great family," said an emotional Kim Riley. "The friendship will never end and now more than ever makes us realize the importance of taking the chance to write a letter to "any servicemember" and supporting our military. Lives can change and be made better when perfect strangers take the chance to come to know each other."