By Eric MintonOctober 1, 2010
WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2010) -- Kat Lanigan, the daughter of an Army Reserve Soldier, saw the outpouring of appreciation for America's military members serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and even took part in a class project writing letters of thanks to deployed servicemembers. Then she realized somebody else also deserved such thank-you notes: the children of deployed parents.
"We thought it would be nice to re-purpose that a little bit and do it for the kids, as well," said Kat.
Kat, now a 19-year-old heading into her sophomore year at Yale, was joined in the project by her sister, Clare, now 18. Four years ago, the siblings launched a "Thousand Thanks," sending notes to kids of all ages across the country to thank them for the sacrifices they make while their parent is deployed.
So far, the Lanigans have sent more than 30,000 such letters. "We'd never imagined it getting quite that big, but it's been really great," Kat said.
The sisters have received some big-time help, too. Warner Brothers Loony Tunes and Hanna-Barbera have signed on as partners, allowing the Lanigans to sign the letters with the signatures of various cartoon characters, like Tweety or Scooby Doo. Basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal, an Army brat himself, also lent his signature to the cause.
Parents can log on to the website, www.saluteourservices.org, and fill out a form with all the pertinent details necessary for the letter, such as name and age of the child and the relationship to the deployed adult (mother, father, stepparent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister), how the child refers to that adult (Daddy, Nana), and the preferred signatory. The form also allows space for any specific information the child might want to read.
The Lanigan sisters start with a form letter and personalize it for each child. Though they have volunteers helping with envelope stuffing and labeling, Kat and Clare author every letter.
They do have a personal stake. Their father, Maj. Kevin Lanigan, an Army Reserve judge advocate assigned to the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) in Riverdale Park, Md., deployed to Bosnia when Kat was 10 and Clare was 9, and he has since deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We've never lived on a base," said Kat, whose home is in Herndon, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
"The isolation from other people going through that made some things harder on us," she said. "It made us less prepared for some things. None of our friends had family in the military and didn't know what we were going through."
Kat wants to alleviate that sense of isolation for other children of deployed servicemembers.
"There's not a lot really you can do when the parent is deployed; you can't replace the parent," she said. "One of the big things you can do is recognize what the children are going through and let them know they are not alone and everyone appreciates the sacrifice they're making." Thousand Thanks letters, she said, "make them feel that they are not necessarily alone when going through a deployment."
Based on what the sisters have heard from recipients and their parents, the letters appear to do just that, Kat said.
One recipient, for example, took to sleeping with the letter under his pillow. "It's always very exciting when we get one of those [replies]," she said. "Makes us feel really good and like we're helping a little bit."
While Kat was at Yale, Clare did most of the letter writing this year, but "I'm really hoping that she'll let me do more this summer," Kat said. Next year, Clare heads off to college at the University of San Diego on the opposite coast from Kat. Still, the sisters intend to keep sending out their Thousand Thanks.
"Definitely, we want to keep it going," Kat said. "As long as there are kids with deployed family members, we want to help them as much as we can, and we think we've found a way to do that."
For more information on Thousand Thanks and to fill out a form to have a letter sent to the child of a deployed servicemember, go to www.saluteourservices.org.
(Eric Minton recently retired as editor of The Officer magazine.)