Two Marine Veterans Created an App to Help Military Recruits and Families Stay Connected

In the digital age, where most communication is done through texts, emails, and social media, one military tradition remains intact: recruits in boot camp can only connect with their families through letters. This can be cumbersome for families and could lead to fewer letters from home. But two Marine veterans came up with a solution.

Instead of families having to write, address, and mail a regular letter, a multistep process often hindered by simple lifestyle changes many people have made, including not keeping stamps or paper on hand, Marine veterans Ray Smith and Sam Meek created the Sandboxx app through their startup.

Sandboxx allows people to create a letter or upload pictures using their smartphone and submit them to the company, who then has the submission converted into a printed letter that is mailed in the traditional fashion. Each letter also comes with a return envelope, making it easier for the service member to write back. According to The Washington Post, Smith and Meek consider the company more than a mailing service, but as a means of connecting recruits with loved ones, using today’s smartphone-obsessed culture to get the job done.

Smith, a 71-year-old retired decorated Marine general, has dedicated four years to his startup.

“I was supposed to be an old retired guy, but now I’m not,” said Smith.

He teamed up with Meek, a Marine sergeant who left active duty in 2007 to work at a Wall Street hedge fund, after discovering that they shared a mutual interest in connecting “the extended military community,” including service members and their families.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘What’s the choke point for the audience?’ It happens to be boot camp,” said Meek.

The pair created Sandboxx in 2013, launching the app the next year.

Smith believes the solution is particularly relevant, especially for young recruits who aren’t used to being disconnected from their families thanks to the prevalence of smartphones.

“It’s a very traumatic shock to be forced off the grid that way,” said Smith. “It’s a really big deal for this younger generation.”

The app, which is available for iOS and Android devices, hasn’t gathered a large base of users, but those who’ve used the service have sent nearly 900,000 letters since the app became available.

To help drum up interest, Veterans of Foreign Wars teamed up with Sandboxx to pay for 5,000 letters, which can also be sent to deployed service members. The usual cost for a message is $3, but discounts are available when bought in volume.

While the letter app has been Smith and Meek’s most significant venture, they hope to create a social media platform in the future that is focused on the military community.