"Thank you for protecting our country," writes an 11-year-old fifth grade student. The note is penned adjacent to a creative drawing of the character SpongeBob SquarePants that is dressed in military uniform.
John Michael Montgomery would like to see 1 million more letters just like that one. The singer of "Letters From Home" is helping enlist a contingent of patriots to send their thank you notes to America's troops as part of a letter writing campaign spearheaded by Shauna Fleming, 15, a freshman at Lutheran High School in Orange, Calif.
Montgomery is lending his voice to the teenager's service project titled A Million Thanks. Fleming hopes to collect 1 million letters during May, National Military Appreciation Month, to honor past and present military men and women.
"She's obviously way mature beyond her age to take on such a task," Montgomery tells CMT News. "I was just blown away by how focused she was on this thing."
Fleming first heard Montgomery's current ballad as she was starting the project, and it soon became the theme song. The two joined together recently on a radio interview tour to drum up support for the troops.
"After 9/11, the military awareness was raised, and people were thinking about them [soldiers] all the time," Fleming said. But she believes the support has declined tremendously. "It's important to raise that back up because I think a lot of them think that we don't care any more, and that they're just doing fine without our help."
"It's a pretty lonely island when you're in the military, especially when you have a war going on," Montgomery reflects. "A lot of troops join the military because they don't have anybody, and then you have troops over there that may even have family but never hear from them."
Fleming has collected letters from passengers during her plane flight, race car drivers and even a special thanks typed on the back of a script from the ABC sitcom, Life With Bonnie. The script was provided by actress Marianne Muellerleile, who portrays Gloria on the series, but celebrity status doesn't matter when it comes to hearing from the people at home.
"It's [letters] like gold, and that's what they love over there ... not only from their families at home, but complete strangers," Fleming said.
"It's very important for us to show our military people that even though there's a big gap in between us, a big pond, we have 15-year-olds over here that care about them and want them to come back home safely."