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'Million Thanks' Teenager Gets Whirlwind Washington Tour

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2004 – The Tomb of the Unknowns sits atop a rise overlooking Arlington National Cemetery and the city of Washington. Within the white marble monument lie the unknown remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

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Shauna Fleming and her family pose behind the Pentagon's DoD briefing room podium where the secretary of defense and other senior officials conduct press conferences with news media. The Flemings were in town for Shauna participation in the launch of DoD's new America Supports You program Nov. 19. Photo by Lt. Cdr. Jane Campbell, USN

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The peaceful beauty of the site is stunning, its silence broken only by the tap of heels coming together as the sentry on duty begins and ends his 21-step march, and the sound of birds crying overhead as if in formal salute to the valor of the fallen.

It was to this place that 15-year-old Shauna Fleming, who for the last six months has collected more than a million letters of thanks for U.S. troops serving in America's latest war, the global war on terror, came to lay a wreath with her parents, Mike and Robin, and her brother, Ryan.

Shauna Fleming founded "A Million Thanks," a program to collect one million letters of gratitude and support from Americans all across the country and distribute them to servicemembers at home and abroad.

The program began with a challenge from Shauna's father, a marketing executive from Orange, Calif., to use the opportunity afforded by her high school community service project to do something special for the troops. The teenager's father started an annual campaign, "Valentines for the Troops," two years ago. Shauna decided to collect thank-you letters -- as many as she could. "Why not shoot for a million?" her dad asked and she did.

In late October, with a handmade card from a high school student in St. Charles, Mo., Shauna reached her one-million-letter goal. On Nov. 17, she presented that card to President Bush in the Oval Office.

And today, Shauna wrapped up her visit with a stop at the Pentagon for the official launch of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program at a Pentagon news conference. She was the first person to log on to the program's new Web site. After the news conference, Shauna and her family visited with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who thanked her for all she has done for America's fighting forces.

While visiting the president and other senior officials and being involved in high- level DoD activities were high points of her trip, Shauna and her family enjoyed other military and military-related events and places in Washington.

On Nov. 17, they also visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where U.S. military members wounded in combat come to heal and recuperate.

Walter Reed's program of "consolidated treatment" assembles the very best physicians and surgeons in one location. It also keeps soldiers in the company of other soldiers, a policy that fosters positive and unconditional support and strengthens servicemembers to return either to their homes and communities or back to active duty. "This helps the healing process and keeps them from withdrawing inside," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Rayburn, himself a former patient at Walter Reed.

It certainly seems to work. At Mologne House, a beautifully appointed home primarily for orthopedic patients, Shauna spoke with an upbeat Pakistani American who fought with the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad. Walter Reed would not disclose the soldier's name.

He had been in Iraq for six months when he lost a leg in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his unit. He was evacuated first to Germany and then to Walter Reed, where President Bush granted him U.S. citizenship when he visited the hospital Sept. 23.

At Fisher House, a cozy homelike setting whose kitchen smells a lot like Grandma's house, Shauna visited with another soldier, a medic with the Army's Special Forces in Afghanistan. Although badly wounded by an anti-tank mine, he said, "All I really want is to be healed so I can return to my unit. They told me as long as I can do my job, I can get back to my team" an eight- to 10-man squad in which he was the only medic.

Families are allowed to stay at both Mologne House and Fisher House on the Walter Reed's grounds to visit and support their loved ones while they recover.

Before visiting the hospital, Shauna and her family made a stop at the Washington headquarters of the United Service Organizations, whose Operation USO Care Package program was displayed prominently at Walter Reed. For $25, Americans can donate a "care package" to military members deployed overseas.

The package includes toiletries and other personal items, a 100-minute telephone calling card from AT&T, a disposable camera and other goodies not available in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Everywhere they went, the Flemings dragged behind them a wheeled suitcase chock full of cards and letters of thanks to the troops. Shauna delivered some of them to every servicemember she met, telling each how much America appreciates their service and sacrifice.

Contact Author

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

Related Sites:
America Supports You
A Million Thanks
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Arlington National Cemetery
Tomb of the Unknowns

Related Articles:
DoD Launches 'America Supports You' to Showcase Support for Troops
Teenager Collects a Million Thanks for America's Fighting Forces

Click photo for screen-resolution imageShauna Fleming, founder of "A Million Thanks," a program to show support for deployed military members, participates in a Nov. 19 wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Terri Lukach  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageShauna Fleming, sporting her new "America Supports You" dogtags, engages in an interview with a reporter after the DoD news briefing launching the America Supports You Campaign. Shauna, a 15-year-old from Orange, Calif., is founder of "A Million Thanks," a program to show support for deployed military members. Photo by Lt. Cdr. Jane Campbell, USN  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageShauna Fleming, a California teenager who has collected more than a million letters of thanks for members of the armed forces, visits Mologne House on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Nov. 18. Photo by Terri Lukach  
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