For Mark Laymon, there's something different now about watching the nightly news. When he hears that five soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq, the numbers feel like more than statistics. It's been that way since he started communicating with Fort Hood Army Capt. Tony Rodriguez.
"I think it's life changing if you can correspond closely with soldiers in Iraq and get a glimpse of their lives," said Laymon, student body president and Dallas junior. "Every time I hear about soldiers on the radio, it becomes personal for me, which I hope is what it will do for everyone."
Now through the Student Government-sponsored Baylor Adopts program, Laymon wants the Baylor community to be involved in the lives of other Fort Hood soldiers. The program officially began last November, when Rodriguez -- at home briefly from Iraq before redeployment -- spoke on campus.
Already, students and alumni have begun correspondence with 40 soldiers from Fort Hood's Bravo Company 316 Field Infantry, sending them care packages and e-mails through the program.
Those who register for the program receive information about a soldier, such as his or her shoe size and favorite kind of music. Some also may specify requests. One 19-year-old soldier asked for heavy metal music and videogames while a 28-year-old requested Kool-Aid and medicated powder.
Laymon hopes to have 90 soldiers adopted during their deployment.
Others also have pitched in with the effort. Natalie Cook, a Katy senior, has been using her double major in public relations and communication to promote the program, sending press releases and information to local news sources. Cook said she wants students to be challenged personally through their correspondence with the soldiers, regardless of their stance on war politics.
"A lot of the soldiers over there are our age," she said. "I think it's easy to get caught up in our own lives as college students here in the Baylor Bubble, and I really hope we can be impacted and feel driven to support the troops."
Laymon said the program was inspired by the Baylor Democrats' letter drive during the 2005 spring semester. Karen Petree, a junior mathematics major from Waco who had adopted her boyfriend's Fort Hood unit of 55 soldiers, directed the drive for that organization.
"He would write and say that he was the only one that got mail," Petree said of the correspondence with her boyfriend, whose unit returned to the United States in January. "That crushed me to know that there were some soldiers who weren't getting anything in the mail on a regular basis."
Registration forms for the program, which is free of charge, can be found on the Student Government Web site www.baylor.edu/sg.