ATLANTA-- Holdinga teddy bear andwearing her U.S. Army field uniform, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Veronica Davis strains to see through the thick crowd emerging from the escalator at Hartsfield-Jackson AtlantaInternational Airport. She takes a deep breath. She is clearly nervous.
She smiles, very aware of the camera capturing this moment.
"Anticipation is something else," she says and laughs.
Davis knows a thing about anticipation and intensity. After three tours in the war, she is home. The anticipation she's feeling now is different. This anticipation is about living up to someone's idea of you.
On her third tour in Afghanistan,Davis received a letter from then 8-year-old Sofie Deck from Mahomet, Illinois. "She's the youngest one that wrote me, the youngest," Davis says.
"My teacher said we were going to write to pen pals. Well, actually she said soldiers since we didn't know what pen pal was." Sofie says witha big smile, her top four teeth missing.
Davis reads part of one of Sofie's letters: "Dear Veronica, I hope you have a good Christmas. I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, do you like turkey?" Davis looks up and laughs.
Sofie says, "We started writing to them and it happened."
What happened was that Davis wrote Sofie back, and what began as a formal correspondence, grew into a friendship, with the two sharing stories of their families, their dogs, their friends, even their fears. In one of her letters to Davis, Sofie writes,
I will go to a new school next year, Lincoln Trail. I am a little nervous but it will be fun. I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for serving our country. Love Sofie.
"She's my best friend," Sofie says beaming.
Davis passed the time in Afghanistan, encountering children of war Sofie's age, losing fellow soldiers. The letters from the freckle-faced gap-toothed little girl in Illinois werelone bright spots.
"Sofie's letters are about everything that's good,"Davis says.
The tour and the letters drew to an end. Back home in Atlanta, Davis worked to readjust to civilian life, a difficult solitary journey. And thena call camefrom Illinois -- from Sofie's mom -- asking if her daughter could come to Atlanta.
Waiting at the top of the escalators for Sofie, Davisholds up a victory sign. It is their sign. "I say 'V' for victory; she says 'V' for Veronica."
Sofie is in her uniform, too -- sparkly shoes, tutu and Army shirt.
Davisthrows her hands in the air and yells when she sees Sofie, and the two run to each other and embrace. After a plethora of photo-taking, the two head upstairs to the USO where Sofie receives a special pin in recognition of supporting the troops.
And then Sofie presents Davis with an "All About Me" book. The book is an Army tradition, an opportunity for a soldier to toot their own horn. Davis sent one to Sofie, and she had it completed for their meeting. Davis reads one of the last pages aloud. "My hero? Mom and Dad and Jesus and Veronica. That is very high honor for me. Very high honor."
Sometimes we can live up to someone's idea of us. At 8 years old, Sofie has the words of her best friend committed to memory -- and heart. Without looking at the letters, Sofie stares into the camera and says:
Take care little one. Continue to do great things. Make the world your canvas and paint joy everywhere. Love, Veronica.