Soldiers


“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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In honor of Memorial Day, I am re-posting this article about Any Soldier. Any Soldier is an amazing organization and I highly recommend checking them out!

It was March 26th, 2003. Army Sergeant Brian Horn, one of 1,000 soldiers, parachuted into enemy territory in Northern Iraq.

Five months later, Brian Horn was able to call his parents. Marty and Sue Horn had been sending their son an average of six care packages per week. So when Brian asked his parents to send more, “my wife and I thought he was kidding!” Marty Horn told me. “But Brian said, ‘no – its for the soldiers that don’t get any.’”

Brian Horn’s regiment spent nearly a year finding places to sleep on the ground or on their vehicles while behind enemy lines in Northern Iraq. From "Life in Iraq", Stars and Stripes' special report on morale. October, 2003, Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes

Both Marty and Sue Horn had spent their careers in the Military, so they immediately understood what Brian was saying. Millions of men and women serving overseas never receive any mail. Besides often lacking basic necessities, these men and women have to cope with the harsh conditions of serving overseas without signs of support from friends and family back home.

The Horns developed the idea for AnySoldier.com during that phone call. Marty created a website that explained the project and offered Brian’s address – including the words “Attn: Any Soldier”. Brian would give these packages to the soldiers not receiving any mail. After his service in the Military, Marty had gotten involved in the still-young Internet. He knew how much opportunity the Internet offered, but even he was amazed at the results. “Within two weeks, we were getting flooded with email from all over the world. It was like an avalanche.”

The project’s growth kept up its tremendous pace. In January 2004, in response to many requests, the Horns opened up the project to the other Military branches. Within one year, they went from seven Military contacts distributing “Any Soldier” packages to 3,500.

“It just exploded. It literally took on a life of its own… Honestly, we started this as a way to help my son and his troops. Imagine camping – it’s hard enough to get stuff, imagine being one in a thousand guys who parachuted behind enemy lines,” Marty said.

The growth has continued. To date, AnySoldier.com – and its related websites, AnyMarine, AnyAirman, AnySailor, and AnyCoastGuardsman – have served over 1.4 million troops stationed in 22 locations. The men and women in service come from 51 states and countries – the vast majority from the USA, but also from such places as England, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Visitors to AnySoldier.com can search for contacts by service location, where the unit comes from, the number of males or females in the group (some supporters prefer to write to “Attn: Any Female Soldier”), and the number of times their address has been requested – among other options.

The response has overwhelmed the recipients, as well. AnySoldier updates from the men and women in service express gratitude, joy and awe at the support they receive. Unit leaders, in particular, write about the contribution AnySoldier makes to their troops:

Minnesota Unit poses with received AnySoldier packages. October 2009, Afghanistan. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

“Thank you so much for your support… seeing the faces of my troops when they get to open a package is what keeps us going around here.”

“I have never seen anything like the love, appreciation and support that comes from the people who visit this site…I just want to thank you all once again from the bottom of my heart. So far I have been able to spread your love to 4 different soldiers of my platoon/battery and see the joyous looks on the soldiers’ faces…”

“Thank you so much for all the packages and letters… morale is up high. I can’t tell you enough how grateful we are. In my eyes you guys are the real heroes.”

AnySoldier has also offered support to wounded Marines recuperating from injuries; assisted in procuring and importing wheelchairs for crippled Afghani children; helped bring attention to and arrange shipments of much-needed medical supplies and textbooks for distribution throughout the Iraqi medical system; and many other projects. AnySoldier packages from supporters have also contributed to the distribution of toys, books, and necessary supplies to civilians living in war zones.

The first donated wheelchair Afghanistan, March 3, 2004 Photo used  courtesy AnySoldier.com

The first donated wheelchair. Afghanistan, March 3, 2004. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Unfortunately, the economy has impacted everyone. AnySoldier, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is almost entirely family-run and depends on donations. The last year has found AnySoldier in debt for the first time in its existence, and the family struggles to maintain all the aspects of the AnySoldier organization on their own. Not only are all the website updates done personally (all update emails by AnySoldier recipients are reviewed for security before being posted to the site), but the Horns try to stay on top of the ever-changing, often-confusing mail regulations for packages to Military personnel, offering guidance and recommendations on the website. Sue Horn also manages TreatAnySoldier.com, which prepares and ships packages for supporters who don’t have the time to create their own.

Support for the AnySoldier organization comes in many forms. A group at MIT created a Yahoo! toolbar that donates a few cents to AnySoldier for every search. The Combined Federal Campaign (catalog number 11993) has approved AnySoldier for their 2009 campaign, and a number of online businesses such as Amazon.com contribute a percentage of sales if you click through the link on the AnySoldier site, found on this page. Similarly, GoodSearch has teamed up with a large number of popular stores to donate a percentage of sales to AnySoldier. More details on these programs and other ways to support AnySoldier can be found here: http://anysoldier.com/OtherWaysToHelp.cfm.

Soldier in Afghanistan offers a Beanie Baby to an Afghani child. This Beanie Baby was donated by AnySoldier supporters. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Despite the difficulties, the Horns stay focused on the importance of what AnySoldier does. “It is a letter, maybe even in a box, addressed to a particular Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman, that will change the day of that Warrior. I can tell you for a fact, that a simple act like that may not only save the life of that Warrior, but affects the morale of the entire unit,” said Marty Horn. Brian Horn affirmed:

“I couldn’t be any more proud to have been a part of such an honorable organization as AnySoldier.com… To have been able to distribute the mail personally as a contact to soldiers who get next to no mail at all and for that brief moment see the look of hope in their faces of good things to come. The hope that somebody out there does care. That somebody does in fact love them as they deservingly should be loved. The hope that some day their involvement in the fight on terror was to preserve those that believed in them so much through and through, until their fight was done. We fight so that maybe, just maybe your grandchildren won’t have to…”

It was March 26th, 2003. Army Sergeant Brian Horn, one of 1,000 soldiers, parachuted into enemy territory in Northern Iraq.

Five months later, Brian Horn was able to call his parents. Marty and Sue Horn had been sending their son an average of six care packages per week. So when Brian asked his parents to send more, “my wife and I thought he was kidding!” Marty Horn told me. “But Brian said, ‘no – its for the soldiers that don’t get any.’”

Brian Horn’s regiment spent nearly a year finding places to sleep on the ground or on their vehicles while behind enemy lines in Northern Iraq. From Life in Iraq, Stars and Stripes special report on morale. October, 2003, Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes

Brian Horn’s regiment spent nearly a year finding places to sleep on the ground or on their vehicles while behind enemy lines in Northern Iraq. From "Life in Iraq", Stars and Stripes' special report on morale. October, 2003, Jon R. Anderson, Stars and Stripes

Both Marty and Sue Horn had spent their careers in the Military, so they immediately understood what Brian was saying. Millions of men and women serving overseas never receive any mail. Besides often lacking basic necessities, these men and women have to cope with the harsh conditions of serving overseas without signs of support from friends and family back home.

The Horns developed the idea for AnySoldier.com during that phone call. Marty created a website that explained the project and offered Brian’s address – including the words “Attn: Any Soldier”. Brian would give these packages to the soldiers not receiving any mail. After his service in the Military, Marty had gotten involved in the still-young Internet. He knew how much opportunity the Internet offered, but even he was amazed at the results. “Within two weeks, we were getting flooded with email from all over the world. It was like an avalanche.”

The project’s growth kept up its tremendous pace. In January 2004, in response to many requests, the Horns opened up the project to the other Military branches. Within one year, they went from seven Military contacts distributing “Any Soldier” packages to 3,500.

“It just exploded. It literally took on a life of its own… Honestly, we started this as a way to help my son and his troops. Imagine camping – it’s hard enough to get stuff, imagine being one in a thousand guys who parachuted behind enemy lines,” Marty said.

The growth has continued. To date, AnySoldier.com – and its related websites, AnyMarine, AnyAirman, AnySailor, and AnyCoastGuardsman – have served over 1.4 million troops stationed in 22 locations. The men and women in service come from 51 states and countries – the vast majority from the USA, but also from such places as England, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Visitors to AnySoldier.com can search for contacts by service location, where the unit comes from, the number of males or females in the group (some supporters prefer to write to “Attn: Any Female Soldier”), and the number of times their address has been requested – among other options.

The response has overwhelmed the recipients, as well. AnySoldier updates from the men and women in service express gratitude, joy and awe at the support they receive. Unit leaders, in particular, write about the contribution AnySoldier makes to their troops:

Minnesota Unit poses with received AnySoldier packages October 2009, Afghanistan Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Minnesota Unit poses with received AnySoldier packages. October 2009, Afghanistan. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

“Thank you so much for your support… seeing the faces of my troops when they get to open a package is what keeps us going around here.”

“I have never seen anything like the love, appreciation and support that comes from the people who visit this site…I just want to thank you all once again from the bottom of my heart. So far I have been able to spread your love to 4 different soldiers of my platoon/battery and see the joyous looks on the soldiers’ faces…”

“Thank you so much for all the packages and letters… morale is up high. I can’t tell you enough how grateful we are. In my eyes you guys are the real heroes.”

AnySoldier has also offered support to wounded Marines recuperating from injuries; assisted in procuring and importing wheelchairs for crippled Afghani children; helped bring attention to and arrange shipments of much-needed medical supplies and textbooks for distribution throughout the Iraqi medical system; and many other projects. AnySoldier packages from supporters have also contributed to the distribution of toys, books, and necessary supplies to civilians living in war zones.

The first donated wheelchair Afghanistan, March 3, 2004 Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

The first donated wheelchair. Afghanistan, March 3, 2004. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Unfortunately, the economy has impacted everyone. AnySoldier, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is almost entirely family-run and depends on donations. The last year has found AnySoldier in debt for the first time in its existence, and the family struggles to maintain all the aspects of the AnySoldier organization on their own. Not only are all the website updates done personally (all update emails by AnySoldier recipients are reviewed for security before being posted to the site), but the Horns try to stay on top of the ever-changing, often-confusing mail regulations for packages to Military personnel, offering guidance and recommendations on the website. Sue Horn also manages TreatAnySoldier.com, which prepares and ships packages for supporters who don’t have the time to create their own.

Support for the AnySoldier organization comes in many forms. A group at MIT created a Yahoo! toolbar that donates a few cents to AnySoldier for every search. The Combined Federal Campaign (catalog number 11993) has approved AnySoldier for their 2009 campaign, and a number of online businesses such as Amazon.com contribute a percentage of sales if you click through the link on the AnySoldier site, found on this page. Similarly, GoodSearch has teamed up with a large number of popular stores to donate a percentage of sales to AnySoldier. More details on these programs and other ways to support AnySoldier can be found here: http://anysoldier.com/OtherWaysToHelp.cfm.

Soldier in Afghanistan offers a Beanie  Baby to an Afghani child. This Beanie Baby was donated by AnySoldier supporters. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Soldier in Afghanistan offers a Beanie Baby to an Afghani child. This Beanie Baby was donated by AnySoldier supporters. Photo used courtesy AnySoldier.com

Despite the difficulties, the Horns stay focused on the importance of what AnySoldier does. “It is a letter, maybe even in a box, addressed to a particular Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coastguardsman, that will change the day of that Warrior. I can tell you for a fact, that a simple act like that may not only save the life of that Warrior, but affects the morale of the entire unit,” said Marty Horn. Brian Horn affirmed:

“I couldn’t be any more proud to have been a part of such an honorable organization as AnySoldier.com… To have been able to distribute the mail personally as a contact to soldiers who get next to no mail at all and for that brief moment see the look of hope in their faces of good things to come. The hope that somebody out there does care. That somebody does in fact love them as they deservingly should be loved. The hope that some day their involvement in the fight on terror was to preserve those that believed in them so much through and through, until their fight was done. We fight so that maybe, just maybe your grandchildren won’t have to…”

Know a great volunteer or volunteer organization? Leave me a comment or email me through this link to let me know!