The firefighter keeps the photo on his smartphone — an image he’ll never delete.
It’s a note from a kid named Ryan that Fullerton Firefighter Thomas Barbor received while serving during a particularly bloody, nine-month deployment to Afghanistan 2009-2010 as a Fleet Marine Force Corpsman.
You are so brave! I’m going to the war too! I’ll see you there. P.S. Tomorrow
Barbor, 30, laughs at the innocence of a child.
“I would be so happy just to get a simple letter,” Barbor said of his eight years in the military, during which he was deployed a second time, to Kuwait in 2007.
“That was my only way to get some normalcy,” Barbor said. “I will save these letters forever and when my son (who is 1 ½) gets older show him, because these letters made me really happy and just excited to be alive.”
Barbor received more than 300 letters from children and adults throughout the United States during his deployments, and he has kept every one.
The value of receiving the letters, he said, is incalculable — which underscores the importance of letter-writing campaigns such as one organized by Team Kids.
Team Kids, a non-profit organization based in Irvine, has been running youth-led school- and community-based service programs since 2001.
In May, Team Kids wrapped up its first-ever Team Kids Challenge in Fullerton, at Rolling Hills Elementary School. Members of the Fullerton Police Department and Fullerton Fire Department participated in the month-long program.
Team Kids’ letter-writing campaign in 2014 yielded 12,391 letters in 30 days from around the country, and this year’s drive is expected to generate a similar amount when the final letters are collected May 18, Team Kids founder and CEO Julie Hudash said.
Barbor, who lives with his wife, Desiree, and son, Landon, in La Habra, became a firefighter three years ago and joined Fullerton Fire in September 2013.
He said his experience serving on the front lines of combat as an FMF Corpsman — his nickname was “Doc” — helped him become a firefighter.
“It’s similar to a firefighter going out in the field to help people,” said Barbor, a Los Alamitos High School graduate who was 19 when he enlisted in the military.
“I like to be in the trenches.”
And Barbor likes to get letters.
So firefighter fans, feel free to send them.
That’s Tom Barbor, Fullerton Fire Department, Station 1, 312 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton CA 92832.
“I hold the military close to my heart,” Barbor said, “and am thankful for every letter or handshake received over the years.”