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Teenager Collects a Million Thanks for America's Fighting Forces

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2004 – It's not every day a 15-year-old gets to meet the president of the United States, but Shauna Fleming of Orange, Calif., is no ordinary teenager.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
President Bush meets with Shauna Fleming, 15, of Orange, Calif., in the Oval Office on Nov. 17. Shauna is the founder of "A Million Thanks.org," a letter- writing campaign to collect 1 million thank-you letters and emails for distribution to U.S. servicemembers. She is presenting the president with the one-millionth letter. Photo by Eric Draper, White House

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Shauna collected one million letters of thanks for U.S. servicemembers, and she gave the milestone letter to the president in a private White House meeting today.

In late October, Shauna received that milestone letter, a handmade card from Stephanie Cope Francis of Howell North High School in St. Charles, Mo.

"Meeting my goal was exciting," Shauna said, "but doing what I had planned from the beginning, which was to give the letter to the president, was even better - very neat!" Shauna said Bush thanked her for what she is doing. "It means a lot to the troops," Shauna said, recalling the president's words to her. "You are doing a great job, and keep up the good work."

Shauna said Bush seemed very excited by the project, but apparently not as excited as her father. "Meeting the president was awesome," Michael Fleming said. "What a great man. He just made everyone feel so comfortable. It was a great experience for us." Shauna's mother and her brother, Ryan, accompanied her to the Oval Office.

It was just barely six months ago, as part of National Military Appreciation Month, that Shauna, then a high school freshman launched a campaign called "A Million Thanks" to collect and distribute a million letters to U.S. forces fighting for freedom in the global war on terror.

To spread the word and stir up enthusiasm, Shauna started the month May 3 by setting up shop under the tent of NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth at the Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif. Later, she met country music superstar John Michael Montgomery in Nashville, Tenn., where the two teamed up to do more than 70 radio and television interviews.

By Memorial Day, the duo was again promoting "A Million Thanks" during the May 30 Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. Montgomery sang his hit "Letters From Home" at the race's opening ceremony, and Shauna distributed letters to servicemembers who were special guests of NASCAR.

Shauna said when she first heard Montgomery's song, which tells of a deployed soldier receiving letters from his parents and girlfriend, she knew it was a perfect fit for her project. "It's sort of the theme song," she said at the time.

A week before the race, the project passed the 400,000-letter mark almost halfway to Shauna's million-letter goal. "We've gotten letters from everywhere," Shauna said then, "all across the country, and even from Italy and Canada."

Little did she know that Military Appreciation Month would be just the start of something much bigger. By July, she was not only a regular on the radio and racing circuit but even had her own Web site and radio show to promote the project. The radio show, which discusses the campaign and includes guest interviews, took shape after station owner Chris Murch, a former Marine captain, contacted Shauna after seeing her on the Fox News Channel on Memorial Day.

"Doing an Internet radio show gives me the opportunity to tell people around the world that Americans do appreciate what our military men and women do for our country, and not to believe everything they read," Shauna said. "It also lets me inform everyone what I hear from our soldiers who are out there, and how we can help them and their families."

In addition to letters for the troops, the project expanded to include the collection of used CDs and DVDs for distribution to forces stationed overseas.

During her visit to Washington, Shauna is slated to visit the Pentagon on Nov. 19. She also plans to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

(K.L. Vantran also contributed to this article.)

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