You’ve Got Mail’….. Operation Soldier Smile

Story by Kelsey Boyd

The 2-142nd Field Artillery out of Ft. Smith has been serving our country overseas since fall of 2006. The soldiers left Ft. Smith last June for training and headed to Kuwait in October where they will remain until October of this year.

During their time in the Middle East, the men and women of the 142nd Field Artillery have received over 200 letters of encouragement from home because of the efforts of two young women, Kayce Merritt and Lizza George.

Last summer, the two Tech students began developing Operation Soldier Smile, a project that connects River Valley citizens to the Ft. Smith troop stationed in Kuwait.

Operation Soldier Smile holds a special place in Kayce and Lizza’s hearts; both women have direct ties to the military. Kayce’s father, Lieutenant Colonel Captain Michael D. Merritt, commands the Fort Smith troop in Kuwait, and Lizza’s husband, Dusty, serves in the National Guard. Dusty was recently mobilized with the 39th and will be heading overseas in the near future.

Lizza explained how, “Support for the war started off strong and slacked off.”

“Whether or not you support the war, there are American troops over there,” she added.

Lizza and Kayce want to provide a steady stream of encouragement to the soldiers in Kuwait.

Kayce said Operation Soldier Smile’s goals are to “provide support” for the soldiers and to “facilitate community service.”

Since fall of last year, Kayce and Lizza have traveled to schools around the River Valley, visiting classrooms and encouraging students to write letters to the troops overseas. So far, the women have visited Dardanelle High School, Community Christian School, Pottsville Middle Grades Complex and Arkansas Tech University.

Kayce and Lizza take care of everything from classroom visitation schedules to postage fees. According to them, the hard work pays off. They believe that corresponding with the soldiers is a good way for Arkansans to show their support.

Not only are Kayce and Lizza concerned with collecting letters from students; they are mindful of education as they do so.

“We try to incorporate education into everything we do,” Kayce said.

A good testimony of this comes from a Dardanelle High School computer class, where an assignment required students to compose a letter to a soldier in proper letter format. The women were delighted to see their project in action in the classroom.

While the main focus of Operation Soldier Smile is on sending letters, that’s not all the women have done. They sent over 100 Ty Beanie Babies to the troop in Kuwait, which will be delivered by the soldiers to a local orphanage.

The women also sent holiday greetings on Christmas and Valentine’s Day. To help the soldiers pass the time, they send newly released movies overseas as frequently as possible.

Volunteerism and special projects are not new to Kayce and Lizza, however. Both women have participated in pageants for years and have plenty of experience in service to their community.

“We’ve both been big volunteers throughout high school,” Kayce said.

Kayce currently reigns as Miss Pope County. Lizza was named the 2004 Miss Yell County, and she crowned Kayce Miss Yell County in 2005.

Kayce and Lizza are sophomores at Tech where they are both involved in numerous activities. Lizza is an early childhood education major. Eventually, she would like to be a resource teacher. She currently works at Kid’s Stuff Daycare.

Lizza George (left) and Kayce Merritt hope their organized show of support, named Operation Soldier Smile, gives soldiers overseas something to smile about. Both women have family serving in the military.

Kayce is a management/marketing major with a minor in emergency management. She has spent the past three summers interning in Baton Rouge with the Katrina staff, aiding in relief efforts. She works at Valley Aviation and Recovery Management, Inc.

The women see themselves as “a breath of fresh air” in a negative world. In the future, they hope to send carepackages to the troops. They also want to “branch out and reach other schools.”

They are currently working on a webpage for Operation Soldier Smile and are looking into obtaining their non-profit license. All their efforts are focused on maintaining and strengthening the River Valley’s bond with its soldiers overseas.

To Lizza and Kayce, their hard work is worth the effort if it brings a smile to the soldiers’ faces. When asked why they put so much time and effort into Operation  Soldier Smile, the women responded with, “just to let them know we care.”

To send a letter to a soldier, make a contribution, or help with Operation Soldier Smile, contact Kayce at kmerritt@atu.edu or Lizza at egeorge1@atu.edu or through operationsoldiersmile@aboutrvmag.com. Additional information is also available by writing to P.O. Box 535, Dardanelle, AR, 72834.

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