A little girl in Indiana performed her own version of military service on Friday, one box of cookies at a time. 

Shelby McMillen, a member of Girl Scout Troop 3397 in Sullivan, Indiana stood behind a set of tables — stacks of Girl Scout cookie boxes in front of her — and with a sweet smile, gave away free Thin Mints and Samoas and other varieties of Girl Scout cookies to active service members, veterans of the military and their families.

The tables, decorated with stuffed bears in military uniforms, balloons in patriotic colors and a big sign saying “Thank you for your service,” were set in the lobby of the Wabash Valley Veterans Services in Terra Haute.

Shelby said that giving away the free Girl Scout cookies was her way of giving back to veterans. Her father, an Army man who has previously been deployed to Iraq, was very much an inspiration.

The first words that came to Shelby’s mind when asked why she decided to do the cookie giveaway: “I love my dad.”

“I love all the military people,” she added. She wanted to just “thank them because [of] what they’ve done for us to make this country free,” she said. “Since I’m 8 years old, that doesn’t mean I can’t thank them, and a way I’m thanking them is by giving them cookies.”

As a Girl Scout, Shelby had cookies to sell this year. But over half of the cookies she sold were donated back to her effort. She raised money for 250 boxes of cookies from nearby donors. About 45 of them have already been away or mailed to active servicemen and women locally and abroad. Some have also been reserved for the families of two local soldiers killed in action. About 200 boxes were available at Friday’s event. 

There was a steady stream of veterans who came through the doors. 

“I appreciate it,” said Vietnam veteran Jerry Goetz after receiving a box from Shelby and shaking her hand. “It’s pretty neat that they do that for the vets.”

“I love cookies,” Goetz, a former Marine, said as he was leaving. 

This was the third year that Shelby gave away cookies to veterans, but the first time to do it in a more open and public way. Martina C. Thompson, veterans services coordinator, said the agency was “more than happy to give them [the family] a place to give back” to the community

“It’s amazing to me that she respects the troops and even recognizes that there are people that sacrifice time out of their lives to make sure that ... her generation has freedoms we have today,” Thompson said. In addition to the cookies, information about veterans services was also distributed. 

It may have been Shelby’s mom, Michelle McMillen, who called Thompson about the venue, but she said the idea for the giveaway was all Shelby’s. 

“It makes me proud just to see her be so proud of her daddy,” McMillen said of her daughter. “She looks up to her daddy, but also she respects anybody in uniform."

McMillen said that every time Shelby and her 10-year-old brother Cody see someone in uniform, they ask to shake their hand and thank them for their service. “And that’s the way we all should be as Americans,” she said.

The entire family supported Shelby’s efforts. “She’s always wanted to give back and it’s all because of him [her dad],” Michelle said. 

As David McMillen, who has been in the military for about 20 years, watched his daughter Friday, he was almost speechless. 

“I’m just one tickled dad,” he said. 

Dianne Frances D. Powell writes for the Tribune Star in Terra Haute, Ind.

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