It all started with the television news. Rachel McSorley said she saw a U.S. soldier in Saudi Arabia crying because he was lonely.
"He said he hadn't received any letters," said McSorley, 14, a freshman at Buena High School in Ventura. "I just didn't think it was right that the soldiers who are protecting our country are lonely."
So, with the help of her friends and family, McSorley started a massive letter-writing campaign that spanned from the schools of Ventura to Santa Barbara.
"I wanted the soldiers to know that they are not forgotten," she said. "We are proud of them."
On Friday, McSorley presented 3,500 letters--written by students of all ages--to Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) and Brig. Gen. Tandy K. Bozeman of the California Air National Guard.
Bozeman said he plans to deliver the letters personally to the troops later this month.
"This will be my first stint as a mailman," Bozeman joked with the students at a lunch-hour assembly. "I am looking forward to the task."
Privately, Bozeman added: "There are young people in Saudi Arabia who are a long way from home. It makes them feel good to know that people at home support them.
"And it makes me feel good to know that the young people in the schools are willing to make this effort. It's absolutely incredible."
McSorley said she started the campaign, called Operation Dear Soldier, in September by contacting the principals of 24 schools in Ventura, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara and Ojai to tell them about her idea.
"It is wonderful to see this kind of involvement," said Cesare Caldarelli, superintendent of the Ventura Unified School District. "It supports the idea that these young people can make a big difference."
Students from kindergarten to the 12th grade, with the encouragement of their teachers, drew pictures and wrote letters expressing their thoughts.
"Even at a young age, the students were saying the same thing," said Lee Ann McSorley, Rachel McSorley's mother. "They said, 'We appreciate you, we want you to come back soon and we hope there's no war.' "
Mandy Markham, 14, a freshman at Buena High School, said she wrote "a whole bunch" of letters to the soldiers.
"It was a lot of fun," Markham said. "I just wanted to show my support."
Sacha Pampalone, 17, a senior at Buena High School, added: "It takes a lot of courage to do what they're doing. I wanted them to know that I'm proud of them."
McSorley said she figured that the campaign would generate about 2,000 letters. She said she was surprised that 3,500 were collected.
"I was shocked," she said. "I knew there was a lot of people who were going to write. But I just didn't comprehend that there were so many people that really do care."
One of the most touching letters, McSorley said, was written by a girl who recently moved to the United States from Mexico.
"She explained that when she came to America she felt lonely and different, and she understood what it was like to be in a new country," McSorley said. "She told them to hang in there. They'll be coming home soon and things will be better."
Next, McSorley said she wants to launch a Christmas card campaign.
"I hope it makes a difference," McSorley said.