November 23rd, 2006 07:44 EST
America Supports You: WWE Taking Milestone Letter to Troops in Iraq
NEW YORK, Nov. 22, 2006 – As World Wrestling Entertainment superstars and divas prepare for a fourth trip to visit servicemembers in Iraq, they’ll be carrying some special cargo: a very important letter.
That letter marks a milestone for Shauna Flemming, 17, founder of “A Million Thanks,” a California-based nonprofit troop-support group with an original goal of collecting 1 million letters of gratitude for troops. Shauna surpassed that goal two years ago, and in January 2006, her goal expanded.
“(Shauna) wants to make sure our military members get thank you notes from the American people, and she’s collected 2.6 million thank you notes, one for every man and woman in the military,” Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communication and public liaison, said during a news conference yesterday at Madison Square Garden here. “WWE will take the 2.6 millionth letter over to Iraq … and present that to our military members.”
WWE and A Million Thanks are both members of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation’s servicemembers.
WWE is encouraging the public’s continued support of servicemembers through holiday greetings through A Million Thanks, WWE spokesman Gary Davis said. The organization also is accepting electronic submission of greetings through its Web site. The messages will be printed on a special holiday card and distributed during the group’s upcoming visit to Iraq.
The superstars and divas also will be delivering 20 Xbox 360 video games and accessories, Davis said. The accessories include the Xbox Live Vision camera, which will allow troops in Iraq to play video games with fellow servicemembers and loved ones at home.
Servicemembers attending the news conference, some of them longtime wrestling fans, confirmed the benefit of receiving letters from home.
“When you’re overseas, you don’t really hear a lot of thanks from people … for what you’re doing,” Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Brunsman, with the New York Military Entrance Processing Station, said. “So every time you get a letter like that from anybody … it’s a huge morale booster and it’s like, ‘Wow! People do care what we’re doing over here.’”
Celebrity visits like the one WWE stars will be making lift spirits as well, Army Sgt. Erich Schmidt, 206th Military Police Company out of Schenectady, N.Y., said.
“It seems like when these (WWE) guys come over, they actually do … care what we do,” he said. “They just made me feel appreciated.”
Army Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, the New York National Guard’s adjutant general, echoed that sentiment. “I’ve seen firsthand the smile on our soldiers’ faces days before events, days before celebrities showed up … and days after, (I’ve heard) the discussion,” he said.
“It makes them feel recognized, … and it’s a small thing to ask when they’re making such great sacrifices,” he added.
Making servicemembers feel appreciated and recognized is more than an honor, WWE superstar Bobby Lashley said. Lashley grew up in a military family and served for three years as in the Army. He was a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program’s wrestling team.
“I think there’s a closer emotional attachment between the troops and myself,” the former Army specialist said. “I feel that it is my duty to go over there and put on the best damn wrestling show that I possibly can for the heroes that are serving in Iraq today.”
That’s the goal WWE chairman Vince McMahon said he hopes to accomplish when he and his organization get to Iraq. “We entertain, but more than anything else in the world, what we do is put smiles on the faces of a global audience, and the smiles on the faces of those men and women over in Iraq is something that is very dear to our heart,” he said. “The are the most appreciative audience we’ll play to all year long.”
A larger audience will get to see part of what McMahon considers his organization’s biggest event when USA network airs WWE’s “Tribute to the Troops” on Christmas night. The program, which will include superstars and divas interacting with and entertaining the troops, also will air on Armed Forces Television, he said.