A group of high school seniors in Stillmore, Georgia, had an opportunity to meet their pen pals face to face on Oct. 18 after more than a decade.

Vincent Buggs, a U.S. Army brigadier general from Tampa, Florida, drove more than six hours to surprise the students whom he has a pen pals since they were kindergarten students, according to GMA.

He was deployed to Iraq three times in the early 2000s. During that time, the class of 13 students at David Emanuel Academy in Stillmore sent Buggs notes and care packages. Buggs sent them notes and treats from wherever he was stationed around the world over the years.

The pen pal relationship started after Buggs stayed in touch with the alumni office of his alma mater, Georgia Southern University to help maintain a sense of normalcy while he was deployed.

A woman in the alumni office told the soldier that her niece’s kindergarten class was doing a project with a gingerbread man to learn more about world geography. She asked if he would want to take pictures of the gingerbread man in Iraq, according to GMA.

Instead of taking a picture, Buggs wrote “a whole story about how the gingerbread man had stolen a camel’s water and how important water was to the region and how hot it was even there. He just went above and beyond.”

About a month later, he had flags flown in Iraq for each of the students and sent those to them. A photo of the students holding their American flags was published in the local newspaper and became a big deal at that time.

“I remember he would always send Kinder chocolates and that was so exciting,” a now-17-year-old student Jenna Mosley said.

For Buggs, the care packages and notes from the students meant even more to him, helping him get through his hardest days in Iraq.

“When you’re sitting in your [bunker] by yourself and you’ve been deployed a few months and the loneliness is there, the letters from home, you get them and it changes your perspective of what you’re dealing with,” Buggs said. “Your mind forgets what’s going on around you and have tunnel vision going through these letters.”

This past weekend he took a trip to Georgia Southern for alumni weekend and decided to visit David Emanuel Academy’s senior class, which includes six students from the original kindergarten class.

The meeting proved unexpectedly emotional for Buggs. He said he wanted to convey to the students the impact they had with their seemingly small acts of kindness.

“For me it was like everything from that time period when I was deployed came back in an emotional rush, the missions we were going through and them writing me,” Buggs said. “I had a surreal moment of remembering the stressful times and how humble and happy I was to get a letter from them.”

Buggs also spoke to the students about their future plans, encouraging them to say not “I hope” but “I will,” according to GMA.

“American kindness is I think one of the greatest things we have in our country and it’s not spoken enough of the small things that people do to make a difference in other people’s lives,” he said. “Everybody can make an impact and do something positive.”