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The Short Version: Forces Penpals connects members of the armed forces with civilians who honor their service and want to express their support. The website began in 2002 as a social networking platform on which UK citizens could write to soldiers on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it soon evolved into a dating site where singles meet high-caliber dates, friends, and pen pals. Today, Forces Penpals has over 226,000 members in the UK and the US, and its growing community has led to hundreds of steadfast and devoted relationships.
A few years back, I met an army vet on a dating site, and we started a correspondence that lasted several months. Unlike a lot of the guys I’d been chatting with, he was in no hurry to meet up. He told me about his experiences in the military and his struggles to cope with military life. I told him about my experiences working on campaigns and my struggles to cope with adulthood.
We talked about job hunting, family, country music, and anything else that came to mind. We typed lengthy messages with a lot of friendly enthusiasm, but no hint of flirtation. “It’s just really nice to have someone to talk to,” he told me one time. “I honestly didn’t know if I was ready to date, but this has been nice.”
Sometimes military men aren’t looking for a happily ever after — sometimes they’re just looking for someone to listen to them and offer support through difficult times. That’s what ForcesPenpals.net provides. This online community emphasizes starting a conversation over landing a date. It fosters in-depth discussions between military personnel and civilians, and those conversations often lead to deep friendships and relationships.
Since November 2002, Forces Penpals has connected people in the UK armed forces and their supporters. Bruno Mustone, the site’s Managing Director, said he envisions the networking site as a place where military men and women could befriend civilians and keep up an active correspondence. Today, the site has over 226,000 members in the UK and US.
“It was specifically about pen pals in the beginning — with a little bit of a dating element,” Bruno said. “It was originally a morale-boosting support service for the armed forces, and a way for us to engage civilians with the military community.”
Forces Penpals offers members many free features. You can join for free, add photos for free, and browse profiles for free. If you see someone you’re interested in, you can even send an online flirt or a virtual hug for free. Many singles choose to use the less romantic and more supportive hug as a friendly hello.
Sending and reading messages, however, isn’t free for everyone. Members who are on active duty receive a completely free subscription, meaning they can use every feature on the site without cost, but everyone else has to sign up for a paid subscription to get the full benefits of the networking site. Membership can cost as little as $1 a week. Forces Penpals gives military veterans a 50% discount on all subscription packages.
When you join, you can mark whether you’re interested in friendship/support or dating (or both!) to let people know your intentions right up front. New members also identify themselves as civilians or members of the army, navy, marines, army reserve, or other type of service member.
Full members can engage with one another in the open discussion forum or live chat rooms. These members-only spaces provide a safe place to open up and make meaningful connections.
“We have a live chat room and forum where people help each other and talk about some of the issues they have,” Bruno said. “People don’t just come on to meet dates; they come to meet people in the community.”
Although Forces Penpals’ mission statement is to serve military men, its services have great appeal among civilian women as well. The dating site attracts thousands of single women who want to find a loyal, strong, and loving partner. It provides a welcoming community for anyone who respects the military and admires the good people who join it.
Forces Penpals members range in age from early 20s to late 50s, and Bruno said that civilians actually outnumber military members and vets. Not only that, but there are significantly more women than men online — which is rare in online dating communities.
Around 79% of Forces Penpals members are women, most of whom are civilians. “It just shows there’s a phenomenal appetite for a site like this,” Bruno said. “We’re now entering the US market and trying to engage US military members. Without us doing any marketing, people have already flocked to it.”
This dating site stands out for its emphasis on community and long-term, long-distance connection. Forces Penpals has a letter-writing feature that encourages members to keep in touch via snail mail.
This old-fashioned service facilitates a private correspondence with someone who may be working or serving overseas. Distance isn’t an obstacle here.
“We’re more about community and helping each other,” Bruno said. “It’s a really friendly team, and we love what we do. We love the fact that we can help people.”
In the last 16 years, Forces Penpals has seen hundreds of success stories, and Bruno said he’s excited to launch the site in the US and expand his influence. He knows the positive impact his networking site can have because his own sister met her future husband 12 years ago via the Forces Penpals forum. They now have two children.
Bruno said two of his best friends also met their partners thanks to the website. “It hits very close to home, and I can see that it works,” he said.
In 2009, Ellen Ludford and Bradley Rogers met on Forces Penpals and started a long-term relationship. They later shared their engagement story with The Telegraph. “Brad has admitted that part of the reason he joined this site is it’s free for the Forces,” Ellen said in an interview. “It’s a running joke that we only met here because Brad is cheap.”
“Forces Penpals is quite well-known in my squadron,” Brad said. “I was looking for a civilian. I couldn’t date someone else in the Army.”
Another couple met on Forces Penpals and had to fly back and forth to see each other in person because he lived in Scotland and she lived in Amsterdam. However, they made it work and uprooted their lives to be together and start a family.
Bruno said he is always happy to hear stories from the people he’s helped find friendship, romance or love. “It’s phenomenal, and I love it. When you see a success story, it makes the hard work worthwhile,” he said. “When you get that one person who says ‘Thank you, I met the love of my life on Forces Penpals,’ it warms the cockles, as we say in England. It makes us really happy to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Since its launch, Forces Penpals has made a positive difference in many people’s lives. It has bolstered members of the military and given civilians an outlet to express their support and create genuine connections. Those connections don’t have to lead to romance to be valuable and satisfying. My army vet pen pal and I certainly went away with no regrets. Whether you’re on active duty or a vet, you can use Forces Penpals’ chat features and snail-mail service to talk to worthwhile individuals.
Forces Penpals has been remarkably successful in the UK, and the team sees great opportunities for growth in the UK. Its Stateside expansion has gone well so far, and Bruno said many UK members have expressed their willingness to correspond with someone in the US armed forces.
Bruno said he will declare his mission accomplished when Forces Penpals reaches military singles across the world and bands them together in a safe and friendly community.
“In the modern world, with social media and social networking, we tend to reduce to our own little groups too much,” he said, “so I like the fact that we can open up new communities of people very much like us.”