When Shauna Fleming was 15 years old, she set out to convince Americans to write thank-you notes to overseas troops. So she founded amillionthanks.org, with a goal to send 1 million letters to the troops.
Fleming met that goal within six months of starting the project, through fairs, air shows and NASCAR races. Four million letters later, the Pentagon took notice.
Now Fleming is a college freshman whom the Department of Defense has drafted to move her gratitude-gathering efforts into the digital age by using her organization to support the effort to text troops over the holiday.
"When they came to me and had this new novel idea ... to send text messages," Fleming said, "I thought it was great because it's something that's immediate."
Major cell phone carriers have agreed to send the messages for free. People can send a text message of thanks to 8-9-2-7-9, until midnight, PT, on Thanksgiving Day. The messages end up on a Web site, where troops with Web access around the world can log on to read the sentiments and respond.
"Thank you for keeping us safe," one text message from Maryland reads.
At just more than 62,000 text messages sent so far, the program has a way to go to reach that million-message goal. But it's doable, considering that quick texting is this generation's communiqué of choice.
"I thought it was a really easy way just to be able to ... send a text message of thanks," said student Maria Sanchez. "I mean, as college students, we don't exactly have all the time in the world to sit and write a card."
And it is Fleming's mission to engage her peers in a war that is out of sight ... and often out of mind.
"A lot of them may not get support from their friends and family. They may not get care packages, and so, you have some soldiers ... who are sitting there who get absolutely nothing," Fleming said. "This is something that will connect them with home ... where complete strangers will say 'Happy Thanksgiving, Happy holidays. We're thinking about you.'"
This is the fifth Thanksgiving since the invasion of Iraq. Fleming believes a million thanks is the least we can do.