Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in AlumnInsider, the Penn State Alumni Association's monthly e-newsletter.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jesse Brandenburg figured she’d see at least one smiling face after she drove eight hours to Maine to greet her boyfriend (now husband) after he returned from a deployment in Afghanistan. But what happened next surprised her.
Jesse continually kept in touch with Paul while he was stationed overseas and in California in 2010; the two got married this summer and both will graduate from Penn State in May, Paul with a degree in history and Jesse with one in biology.
While Paul was deployed, Jesse had also regularly been sending him care packages, which included socks, deodorant, snacks and cookies, among other items.
In a word, “everything,” Paul said.
Jesse even sent something called cake-in-a-jar. She was worried the recipe wouldn’t come out right, but Paul said they were great. He also received about 200 letters of support from his nephew’s fourth-grade class. Thanks to Jesse and others back home, mail day was typically an exciting time for Paul.
Now, back to Maine.
Paul definitely was happy to see Jesse when he stepped off the plane at the Bangor International Airport. So were the other troops stationed with Paul, and they greeted Jesse just as enthusiastically, thanking her for her support.
When Jesse received this unexpected response at the airport, she didn’t know how to respond. The other troops were strangers, people she hadn’t ever met before, and they were thanking her for everything she’d been doing for them.
“At that point, I hadn't yet been out to California to visit Paul and only knew of his buddies from what he had told me via phone or letters,” Jesse said. “Maine was the first chance I had to meet them.”
It didn’t make sense, at least not until Paul clued her in. It turned out that the entire time Jesse was sending Paul packages, he was in turn sharing the goodies with the troops, even the cakes-in-a-jar (Jesse had sent four). So by the time everyone landed back in the United States, they were eager to meet this girl who’d been their baker-pen pal-supply outfitter the entire time.
"All of my buddies were thanking her, and she was kind of confused,” Paul said. “I explained to her that these guys weren't getting anything. And what I had from you, I was sharing with them, and they loved it. She felt really moved by that.”
Jesse and Paul weren’t reunited for long. They had only an hour together before Paul boarded a flight to California, where he was stationed for a month.
Still, Jesse called that time one of the best hours of her life, and completely worth the 16-hour round-trip. She was so excited, she couldn’t sleep that night and went to the hotel gym at 2 a.m. because she didn’t know what else to do.