Kristin Wheeler

Spouse of Army Sgt. Philip Wheeler

1st Support Battalion, Camp El Gorah, Sinai, Egypt

Before Kristin Wheeler met and married Army Sgt. Philip Wheeler in 2005, she knew she wanted to do something to help Soldiers who were being sent overseas in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, Kristin worked in a dental office in Newport News as a dental assistant, hygienist and office receptionist.

She realized she could coordinate with her patients to find units to send care packages to. Thus, Operation Send Over Smiles was created.

“I wanted to do something for the military,” Kristin explained. “I thought, maybe we could find soldiers to send things to. So we started the Send Over Smiles program to honor those who are serving in Iraq and other places overseas.”

Kristin found units to sponsor by speaking with her patients. One patient’s son was deployed to Iraq, so the office adopted his unit. Kristin coordinated with the unit to find out what kind of items to send, and to get pictures of the unit to put up in the dental office. Kristin then organized the collection of items, accepting donations from other patients and employees of other offices in the business park.

“We have collected everything from cookies, baby wipes and batteries, to books and magazines,” Kristin said. “We send dental care items, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well. We try to send things that are not usually available in the area the unit is deployed to. We have even sent dental tools. Sometimes I purchased supplies with my own money. Then the dentist pays for shipping.”

So far, the office has adopted five units. Some of Kristin’s patients are teachers, and they have their students write letters to include in the care packages.

“Running the program makes me feel better, like I’m actually doing something to help, especially since my husband is in the Army,” Kristin explained. “Since he’s doing something to serve our country, I want to continue to do something to help them.”

Wheeler is a Blackhawk helicopter crew chief who was recruiting in Denbigh and was deployed in August as part of 1st Support Battalion, Camp El Gorah, Sinai, Egypt.

In addition to sending care packages to Soldiers overseas, Kristin collects and distributes dental supplies to women’s and children’s shelters in Newport News.

“By creating Send Over Smiles, Kristin offers an outlet for us and our patients to give, and that helps emotionally,” said Dr. Stephen MacGregor, Kristin’s employer. “It gives her something to focus on while her husband is deployed. She has remained cheerful and focused on our patients and has an unwavering pride and faith in her husband’s service to our country.”

MacGregor believes it is Kristin’s compassion that motivated her to create this program.

“We receive emails and letters regularly, saying they would love to receive letters,” MacGregor said. “One request even asked for used dental picks to be sent to the unit, since they are great for cleaning their weapons. We have received a lot of positive feedback from the units, as well as the patients who are involved with a unit we sponsor.

Kristin credits growing up in a Navy family as one of the reasons she likes helping the military community.

“My dad was in the Navy as an aviation ordnanceman,” Kristin said. “He spent most of the time stationed on ships in Hawaii and retired after 20 years. So I too want to give to the community.”

As mother to Ashton, 5, and Abigayle, 21 months, Kristin said the program is a way to help her stay busy and focused.

“With him deployed now, I’ve gotten into a routine,” Kristin said. “Sometimes I wish he was here to help, even if just with small things like getting Ashton from a soccer game to ballet class, but we’ve adjusted. I feel more and more confident that I can do it by myself.”