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America Supports You: Dog Tags Journey to Servicemembers, Families

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2004 – Rose Sliepka routinely saw engraved messages for customers at her trophy shop in Lancaster, Calif., and one day she decided to use her expertise to help military members serving overseas in the global war on terrorism.

Sliepka, who served four years in the Air Force during the 1970s, realized that "dog tags would be the perfect item to send" to families of servicemembers.

"What soldier's child," she asked, "doesn't want a dog tag of their own" from a deployed parent?

She said her "Dog Tags for Soldiers' Kids" program has so far produced 38,000 aluminum dog tags bearing messages of support from deployed military fathers and mothers to their families at home.

The tags come in colors, Sliepka explained, to represent the different armed services: red for Marines, green for soldiers, and blue for sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen.

After engraving, she explained, the dog tags are shipped to deployed servicemembers, who then mail them to their families.

A typical tag message, she noted, might read: "With Love, From Dad, U.S. Army, Iraq 2004."

The program, which began in April, is funded by donations made through the Rotary Club of Lancaster, Sliepka said. Servicemember mailing lists for the program, she said, have been solicited from military chaplains and other sources.

After convincing an engraving machine company to loan her an engraver, Sliepka was off. That company, she noted, has since donated the engraving machine to the effort.

The initiative "just started growing," Sliepka recalled, noting she and volunteers began shipping engraved dog tags around the end of May. She said the dog tags, complete with chains, have been sent to servicemembers in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We try to send them to the chaplain or the first sergeant," Sliepka explained, "so they can hand them out to the unit."

When a new address is obtained, 135 dog tags are shipped out, she said, "because that's what fits in a priority mail envelope." An explanation of the program and Sliepka's e-mail and postal address are included in the packet.

The program has shipped out about 38,000 dog tags to servicemembers, she said, with 10,000 more on order.

Navy Reserve Cmdr. Thomas W. Sutton, a logistics officer who returned to his home in Palmdale, Calif., in September after nine months of service in Kuwait and Iraq, praised Sliepka's dog tag program.

The father of four said his youngest son, Kristian, age 6 at the time, became angry and initially wouldn't talk to him on the phone after he'd deployed in January for training and follow-on duty in the Middle East. But, after sending letters and dog tags home to his children, Sutton noted that Kristian improved dramatically.

"It really touched him," Sutton said. His wife observed that Kristian immediately kissed the dog tag and placed it around his neck, he added. "A couple of days later, he ran to the phone and wanted to talk with me," the commander recalled.

Sutton said he also helped to distribute dog tags, noting that 15,000 had been delivered to servicemembers in his area of operations.

"This thing has just taken on a life of its own," he said.

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