Over the past six years, 21-year-old Shauna Fleming and her organization A Million Thanks have collected and sent more than 5 million thank you cards and letters to U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other parts of the world.
Her national call to action started when she was just 15. After 9/11, says Fleming, “You could walk outside and see flags and yellow ribbons on every house. Slowly that started to decline. I wanted our country to remember that we still had troops fighting for us and they deserve to be recognized and appreciated.”
Soon after, A Million Thanks was born and received massive support. Today, Fleming is the spokesperson for National Military Appreciation Month—and that month is May.
The original goal of A Million Thanks was to send 1 million letters to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. After far surpassing a million letters, Fleming’s dedication is geared to ensuring that the numbers continue to rise.
“A lot of people join the military because they do not have much family," says Fleming, emphasizing how much a note of thanks can mean. "A lot of times, their families are not supportive of their decision to join the Armed Forces. That being said, hearing from complete strangers means so much to them.”
Oftentimes, soldiers write back. A letter from a soldier named Chris left a lasting impression on Fleming. Throughout his eight-month tour they stayed in touch. “He had no family back home,” Fleming says. “Virtually the only contact he had with the states was through myself and my family.”
Chris mentioned he was coming home. With the support of her family and without Chris knowing, Fleming flew to the soldier's base in Texas and welcomed him back to the U.S. She says, “He was ecstatic. It was then that I realized what our support means to them."
With A Million Thanks, Fleming has visited many veteran hospitals, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Virginia, and witnessed firsthand the aftermath of war. “I saw what these men and women were going through, many of them alone. More devastatingly, I learned about the increasing suicide and depression rates among returning, injured military.”
The trip to Walter Reed inspired the Wounded Soldiers Wish Foundation, which will raise funds to grant wishes to injured military men and women who have fought in the wars since 2002. Fleming's hope is that "these granted wishes will help them realize we do care about them and want to see them enjoying their life."
The wishes can be anything from a vacation with family to a prosthetic device that will make civilian life a little easier. Fleming will place the soldier’s name, story and wish on her website, and you can choose a soldier to help. Check out Fleming’s A Million Thanks website for updates on the progress of this foundation.
In the meantime, there are many ways to help during National Military Appreciation Month. First, take a few minutes and write a letter to the troops. It doesn't take long, and it will make a soldier's day. Take a look at the A Million Thanks website for guidelines, drop-off locations, and example letters.
Fleming also suggests checking out local organizations where you can volunteer to support troops—or visit a military base to deliver cards of appreciation.
After all, whether we're for or against the wars, our troops need us as much as we need them.
All photos compliments of Shauna and her family.