America Supports You: Top Enlisted Servicemember Gets Milestone Letter
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2007 “A Million Thanks” presented its milestone 2.6 millionth letter of support for the troops to the Defense Department’s top enlisted servicemember during a ceremony in his Pentagon office today.
Shauna Fleming (second from left) presented Army Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the 2.6 millionth letter of support for the troops collected through her A Million Thanks program Feb. 1 at the Pentagon. The letter was written by Sean Siefried, 8, and his sister, Amber, 12, of Eaton, Pa. Orange Lutheran High School Principal Gregg Pinick (right) was on hand for the presentation after earlier accepting an Office of the Secretary of Defense Exceptional Public Service Award on behalf of the school. Photo by William D. Moss
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“This letter represents that every person serving in the United States armed forces has symbolically received a written ‘thank you’ from grateful Americans,” Shauna Fleming, founder of A Million Thanks, said as she presented the milestone letter to Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A Million Thanks is a member organization of America Supports You, a Defense Department program that highlights and facilitates Americans’ support for the nation’s servicemembers.
Gainey immediately removed an existing photo from the wall to the left of his desk and hung the letter in its place, vowing it would always hang in his office.
Fleming, who in November achieved her goal of collecting 2.6 million letters of support, had some help making the presentation. Amber Siegfried, 12, of Eaton, Pa., and her brother, Sean, 8, wrote that milestone letter of support and were on hand for the presentation.
“We wanted to show the troops … over there that we support them and what they’re doing,” Amber said after the ceremony concluded. “We also wanted to tell them how much it means to us what they’re doing over there.”
Gainey thanked the young people for their thoughtfulness.
“I wanted to honor you folks,” Gainey said. “Most people don’t care enough to care, and that takes a very special person. … You’re right on track.”
He also had a presentation of his own prepared. A book of letters written to the troops by children, as well as his personal coin, were part of the gifts the youngsters received. But it was a pen-and=-pencil set that perhaps had the most meaning for both Gainey and the recipients.
“You’ve got to keep writing letters,” he said, adding that now when they write letters with the set he gave them, he’s
a part of their effort.
“That’s pretty special to me,” he said.
Gainey also was quick to ease any doubts the students had about whether troops who get letters of support from home appreciate them. “When I was in Iraq, I was over there for 13 months,” Gainey said. “And, believe it or not, your letters make a difference.”
The letters represent a touch of home for the troops, he said. “That might sound corny, but it’s true,” he said. “It’s a morale factor.”
He later also emphasized how proud of he is of Fleming and the Siegfrieds, and how important it is for young people to keep supporting the troops, a point he had made to them earlier.
“Young people like we just saw – our future, our greatest generation -- just walked out of this room,” he said. ”As long as they keep writing and putting ink and pencil on paper, morale will be high. The minute we lose them, we’ve lost the war at home.”
Now that Fleming, 17, has achieved her goal, she’s focusing on college applications. But that doesn’t mean her support of the troops won’t continue.
“I’m … going to be starting chapters around the country so that other high schools can do what my high school, Orange Lutheran (in Orange, Calif.), has done, in … having their own ‘A Million Thanks’ area to be able to collect and distribute letters,” Fleming said.
She’s also starting the “A Million Thanks Foundation,” which will collect funds to help wounded soldiers returning from duty and in need of specific things that may not be provided for them, she said.