NBA Star O’Neal Joins Effort Thanking Military Kids

By Courtney Reddington
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2007 – NBA star Shaquille O’Neal will soon play a part in thanking children of deployed servicemembers for their sacrifices.
O’Neal, a military “brat” himself, will represent USA Basketball as he joins Kids Serve Too, a program of Salute Our Services, in sending thank-you letters to military children.

USA Basketball, which includes the NBA, and Salute Our Services are both members of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program. The program showcases the ways Americans support the nation’s servicemembers.

Kat Lanigan, 16, and her sister, Clare, 14, co-chairs of the Kids Serve Too national kids’ advisory board, announced last week that O’Neal will join them in their program’s “A Thousand Thanks to Military Children” project.

The Lanigan girls are the daughters of Army Reserve Maj. Kevin Lanigan, who has served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, so they know the stress children go through during deployments.

"Our goal is to help make sure that kids who have a parent or loved one deployed know that they are appreciated and to say thank you to them for their sacrifices,” said Clare, a ninth-grader at Westfield High School in Herndon, Va. “We are so excited to have Shaq’s help.”

“My dad has missed my last three birthdays because of deployments,” Kat, a 10th-grader, added. “To know that Shaq and the NBA cares about kids like us is amazing.”

O’Neal knows from first-hand experience what it’s like to be the child of someone serving in the military. Kids Serve Too will send a thank-you letter with Shaq’s photo and signature to military children at the request of a deployed servicemember or a loved one on the home front.

Other sports figures, including drag racer Tony Schumacher, driver of the U.S. Army Top Fuel dragster, also are participating in the program.

As co-chairs of the national kid’s advisory board for Kids Serve Too, a nonprofit group created by military families for military families, the Lanigan girls help increase awareness about deployment issues.

Kids Serve Too has awarded financial grants to children of deployed servicemembers across the nation so they can continue their extracurricular activities during the deployment. It also hosts free events for military children and provides educational materials to non-military schools about the stresses of deployments on children.

“I know what my dad does is important, but what we do is important, too,” Clare said. “My dad needs to know that I am safe and sound when he is away so he can concentrate on doing his job.”