By Allison C. Gallagher
For the Troy Daily News
WEST MILTON — Pen pals have been writing letters for centuries. However, today’s technology has made the weeks-long wait for a letter a relic of the past, and provides more expedient opportunities to connect.
National Guardsman Rusty Chrisman, Specialist 4, works at the West Milton Optical, where he recently returned after spending a year deployed in Afghanistan. Prior to his deployment, he developed a special connection with a young girl who used to wait with her mother, Crystal Townsend, at the bus stop outside the shop.
“I was waiting at the bus stop for my son, who was in kindergarten at the time,” Townsend said. “Rusty saw us in the window of the shop, and he and Hailey would play peek-a-boo. That’s how we originally got to know him.”
According to Chrisman, Townsend’s daughter Hailey, 6, and son Aidan, 8, eventually began to visit him and John Stuckey, one of the co-owners of the West Milton Optical — and it almost always involved cookies.
“It’d (the peek-a-boo games) keep happening,” Chrisman said. “The kids would come in and we’d give them cookies. She’s actually started going to kindergarten this year, so she and her brother would stop in, talk to us and ask if we had cookies. A bunch of little kids would come in, so we wound up stocking up on cookies for them.”
After Chrisman deployed, Stuckey set up an area for the kids to keep in touch with Chrisman via Skype, a voice-over-IP service which features a microphone to talk into and video for the pair or group in the conversation to see one another.
“Hailey would always ask where I was,” Chrisman said. “My boss, John, would plop her up on a step ladder, and we’d Skype.”
Both Chrisman and Townsend said that Hailey is shy, so initially Chrisman would be talking to Stuckey or Townsend with Hailey nearby to ask a few questions. However, as time went on, Chrisman said that Hailey would talk more and came out of her shell.
“She’d run inside, grab the chair, put it in front of the computer and we’d talk over Skype,” Chrisman said.
He is now back at home and working, with Hailey and her family visiting regularly. Stuckey stated that it was important to him and Terry Hassell, the other co-owner of the West Milton Optical, that they were able to provide a link while Chrisman was overseas to normal life at home.
“Both Terry and I are veterans and realized that the best thing we could do to support Rusty was to consistently provide links back to ‘normal’ and make sure he engaged in dialogue that reflected his links to normal,” Stuckey said.
Stuckey served in the Navy as a medical specialist Corpsman. Hassell served in the Army as a medical specialist.
It was also important to Stuckey and Hassell that when Chrisman returned home, he would have a job saved for him. Stuckey remembered that when he first returned home from war that jobs were tough to find, so he did not want Chrisman to go through that experience and felt that promising a job was another link to normalcy.
“Guaranteeing him a job when he returned from war was another,” Stuckey said. “And reminding him that we were actively looking forward to his contribution to our company upon his return was another link.”
Stuckey, Hassell and the Townsends are grateful that Chrisman returned home in one piece, mentally and physically, and Stuckey has said he is grateful his prayers were answered.
The American flag that Chrisman flew at his base in Afghanistan is in a shadow box at the West Milton Optical, along with a letter that Chrisman sent the company thanking them for their support.
To see the flag, visit the shop at 104 S. Miami St.
For more information, call (937) 698-4456.