“My brother was in desert storm and the only thing he ever asked for was a Mother’s Day card for his wife,” said Rose Sliepka. “Until then I never realized how hard it is for them to get everyday normal things.” Then she heard a story about a soldier in Iraq, who wanted to send his children a package. “He sent the only things he had access to: a couple of band aids and some sun screen. His children were so excited to receive it because they got something from Dad who had been away for some time. It came from Dad, that’s all that mattered to them.”

“It made me think that there had to be something we could send the soldiers that they could easily send back.” Rose Sliepka owns and operates a  one-person engraving shop in California, and there she found her inspiration: “What soldier’s child doesn’t want a dog tag of their own, especially one like Mom or Dad wears?”

The project has slowly grown with the help of volunteers and support of military personnel. “[At first] people didnt trust us, didnt believe us, didnt think anyone would want to do this,” described Rose. One person at a time, the project has picked up. Major Matt St. Laurant sent tags to his three children. He was so impressed that he gave out 5,000 dog tags to soldiers in Iraq being treated by his combat stress team. Today soldiers take up collections to support Dog Tags for incoming soldiers. The engraving and mailing is supported by 20 volunteers. “At the beginning, I explained my idea to one customer.  She started helping.  One day an older lady came in to get a plate made for her husband’s flag case.  When she came back in to pick it up I told her she looked like she needed a project.  She asked what I had in mind.  She started volunteering and then brought a friend. .. After a story ran in the local paper a lady walked in and said she used to be a third grade school teacher.  She knew that three of her former students had been deployed and she wanted to help.  She and her husband still help 6 years later.”

Each Dog Tag is engraved “With love from Mom/Dad,” and lists the parent’s branch, location and year. Tags are available in English and Spanish. Dog Tags For Kids has shipped out over 500,000 tags, but thousands of military parents are waitlisted. While the Veterans of Foreign Wars endorses Dog Tags For Kids, the organization does not have any celebrity endorsements and runs completely on donations.

“Getting everything done is very time consuming and can also be emotionally draining.  Everything we do, we do for free.  We make/bag/pack/send the tags, we do our own fundraising.  We make special tags for fundraisers.  We set up tables at car shows, senior expos, anywhere we can get in for free.  It really is like having an extra full time job,” described Rose. “Even though it only takes 50 cents for the entire tag with postage, financing the project is always an issue… It would be wonderful if every deployed parent in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan knew this project exists and to have the resources to be able to provide tags to anyone that requested them.”

Asked what motivates her to overcome these challenges, Rose responded: “Do you remember the last time you got something from someone you didn’t even know? Something that you didn’t even know existed, didn’t know you needed but meant a lot to you? If we can make the military member or their child smile if even just for a moment, it is worth it. There is a quote:  ‘They may not remember what you said or what you did but they will always remember how you made them feel.’”

Rose receives proof of those smiles regularly: stories, letters and photos from soldiers and their families. “One of my favorite stories is about a 6 yr old who was so angry at his dad for deploying that he refused to talk to him on the phone.  Six and a half months, this guy called home every week and his son wouldn’t talk to him. The dad heard about our project and sent each of his kids a letter and a tag.  Christian got his tag, put it on and when he went to bed at night, took it off, kissed it and said “Good Night Daddy”.  His dad called 3 days later and Christian talked to him. I can’t even imagine what it is like to be half a world away and not be able to do anything to comfort your little boy.”
She regularly shares Christian’s story. There is also the 3 year old boy who wear his dog tag like a badge, whose mother wrote that “his face is worth every effort it took for his father to send it.” There is Olivia, a preschooler who received her dog tag as she was heading out the door to school and calls it her “jewel” and sat out of recess rather than take the dog tag off. There is the soldier who searched the items that Afghani vendors brought by every 2 weeks, searching for something appropriate to send his 4 year old son. “The guy would point to teapots and carpets and swords…. well, my son’s not sophisticated enough to appreciate those things. When I lost all hope, I got an email from Dog Tags for Kids.”

Rose is continually surprised by how Dog Tags has “gone so far and actually does change people’s lives.” Her advice to others looking to make a difference? “Don’t wait for someone else to do it.  If you have an idea and the ability to make it happen, how can you not?”

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