War on Terrorism

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dog tags connect families to loved ones

By Lt. Col. Daniel Lonowski
Joint Sustainment Command - Afghanistan

(5/10/10) -- "With love from Dad. U.S. Army. Afghanistan. 2010." Soldiers in the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, mothers as well as fathers, had the opportunity to send a dog tag to their child thanks to the caring thoughts of one Soldier's spouse. This wasn't just any dog tag, but one with the above engraved message, either from Dad or Mom.

Debbie Ridgeway, the wife of Sgt. Major Kenneth (Michael) Ridgeway, a member of the Alabama Army National Guard who is deployed with the 135th ESC, discovered the "Dog Tags for Kids" Web site when she was browsing the internet about a month ago.

Debbie said she learned about the "wonderful project" when she was looking up the Freeport Flag Ladies, another group that supports troops who are leaving the U.S. for combat operations overseas.

"Debbie is always trying to do something nice for Soldiers," said the sergeant major, who has been in the Alabama Guard for 38 years. "She is the driving force behind this project."

The project to which Ridgeway refers is actually operated by a two-person team, one in California and one in Michigan. The two ladies, who have been featured on Fox News for their selfless generosity, have been in the dog tag industry for six years.

"My brother served in Desert Storm. The only thing he ever asked for was a Mother's Day card [from me] to send to his wife," explained Rose Sliepka, who lives in Lancaster, Calif. "Up until then, it never occurred to me that sometimes Soldiers don't have access to everyday items."

Sliepka, who initiated the program in 2004, has made more than a half million dog tags for different occasions in order to send to troops. Her partner, Berna Novak, answers all e-mails from her home in Scotts, Mich.

Rose said she heard a story about children who were excited when their father sent them band-aids and sun screen from Iraq. It was then that she realized something simple could be effective. Rose said she has many volunteers who help her package the dog tags that are sent to Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors who can then send them to their children.

Debbie said Berna and Rose make the process very easy.

"Berna informed me that I could order a batch of the dog tags and she would send them [to my husband]," Debbie said. "Berna was so supportive of all our troops and all the sacrifices that our families make."

Ridgeway received the dog tags from the company and he handed them out to Soldiers to send to their children.

Debbie said she worked with Leigh Shepherd, the Family Readiness Group coordinator, to get information to families.

The "Dog Tags for Kids" organization is comprised of an all-volunteer workforce. The organization receives donations from charitable companies that help support the troops around the world.

"Our youngest son, who is 30 years old, wears his dog tag proudly," Debbie said.

For Rose and Berna, hearing each story of children, regardless of age, wearing one of the 530,000 dog tags produced, makes it worth it.

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