There are many ways in which our current deployment is very different from the typical deployment that the crew of USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT was expecting before the events of Sept 11.

Surprisingly, the mail has become one of the most positive aspects of the deployment.

Mail can be a challenge to deliver to a ship at sea. Normally mail is delivered one of two ways. It is either flown onboard by plane or helicopter from shore, or it is transferred during underway replenishment from one of the many logistics ships that operate with the battle group. Either way, the operation can be a hazardous one that takes the efforts of hundreds of sailors working together. Mail does not arrive every day because priority for transfer is given to personnel, supplies, and ammunition.

But for a ship as large as the ROOSEVELT, when it does arrive, the mail is measured by the ton. On one particularly memorable mail day, more than 17 tons was delivered. And it took a group of postal clerks and volunteers two days to sort the shipment in the hanger bay.

Whichever way the mail is delivered, it is an important part of life at sea. Even with the introduction of e-mail, sailors are still excited by hearing the words "mail call" announced on the ship's public address system. Those two words are the cue for sailors that mail is available for pickup at the ship's post office. And a mail clerk from each of the ship's dozens of divisions, squadrons, and detachments is assigned the task of picking up the letters and packages for his or her group.

For this deployment however, there is more to be found in the mail than the standard collection of letters and care packages from loved ones. With every delivery of mail, hundreds of letters and packages addressed to "Any Sailor" or "the Crew" are received.

They are messages of thanks and wishes of good luck to the crew. They are from individuals and groups, adults and children. Some are from retired military, some are from members of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, but most of the people who write have little or no connection to the ship or the navy. They are from people who just want to express their thoughts and share their prayers with the sailors and Marines onboard.

The "Any Sailor" letters that arrive are distributed among those who wish to have a pen pal. Some are published in the ship's daily news publication, the "Rough Rider." Still other letters, especially those from children, are posted in the ship's library and along the passageways for all to read. After three months at sea, we have received more than 30,000 letters and packages addressed to "Any Sailor."

Of all the letters that we receive, it is the letters from the children that mean the most to the crew. Most of the children's letters come in packages sent from schools around the country. The children express their fears from what happened on Sept. 11 and they tell us where they were when they heard the news. Most importantly, they remind us why we are out here, thousands of miles away from home.

It is amazing how honest and inspiring children can be. One child from New Britain, CT told a story of how she had plans to visit the world trade center the week following Sept. 11. Another student shared that he had relatives who were in the military and serving overseas. Students from Burlington, MA were proud to say that their class had raised nearly $2000 for the Red Cross and that they were lighting candles for the victims of Sept. 11.

Many of the children said that they were afraid, but felt better knowing that the military was helping to protect the country. A student wrote "It helps me get a goodnight's sleep knowing you're out there defending the United States." And another added that because of us he felt "safer walking the streets." They asked us to "stay strong and never give up for our beautiful country." One student added that "every day I say a prayer for your safety." Another child said simply "I hope we win."

Patriotism was the common theme in all the letters. An elementary school student wrote "I am happy I live in the U.S.A." One of my favorite letters was from a middle school student who wrote that we were all on "Team America." And still another student wrote that "If I could volunteer, I would do the same for my country."

They were just as eloquent with the way they signed their letters. Some ended by saying things like "with love and thanks." One student closed his letter with "Your fellow Citizen." And another chose to end his letter with "God bless America."

People choose to join the Navy for many different reasons. Some join because they want to serve their country. Some join because of family tradition. And others join to get money for college or to learn skills that they can use later. But after the events of Sept. 11 and with all these letters pouring in, we are all out here for the sake of the children back home and the future they will inherit. We are out here because things like freedom, equality, and safety are worth fighting for.