Military working dogs Don (on bench) from Fort Knox, Ky., and Goro wear donated Doggles, eyewear designed especially to protect dogs' eyes from heat and desert sandstorms, while working in Iraq with their military police partners.
American citizens organize donations for dog handlers in Iraq
By Sgt. 1st Class Reginald P. Rogers
April 9, 2004
FORT MONROE, Va. (Army News Service, April 5, 2004) -- The military police motto "of the troops and for the troops" has been taken to heart by some American citizens concerned for the Army's four-legged troops: the military working dogs.
The MWD teams, an intricate part of the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, devote many hours to various missions -- many of these behind the scenes. The dogs work in heat and sandstorms, just like their human team members.
The dogs' welfare and the Soldiers' efforts prompted Linda Cunningham from Hillsdale, Mich., "to do her part.
"I just wanted to let Soldiers know the people at home appreciate their efforts in the Middle East," said Cunningham, who works at Hillsdale's Family Independence Office and volunteers at the local humane society. "I also wanted to send goodies for the dogs because the dogs are providing a service to their country as well."
Cunningham said that when she was contacted by one of her co-workers about making a contribution to Soldiers serving in Iraq, they talked about aiding the MWDs specifically. Cunningham's research yielded an idea -- Doggles for the dogs to protect their eyes from the desert sandstorms.
Cunningham, her co-workers and friend Lydia Ross of Seattle, Wash., solicited donations to purchase the Doggles. The Doggles Company, which is based in North Carolina, agreed to sell the protective eyewear to the group at wholesale prices.
"(The decision to send the goggles to the dogs) was actually pretty simple," explained Ken Di Lullo of the Doggles Co. "We were contacted several times, mostly by vets in Iraq. All it takes is a simple e-mail telling us what the need is, and we ship it out. Protecting the eyes of the military working dogs seems to be a big problem in Iraq, with the sandstorms."
He said his company has sent the dog handlers at least a dozen Doggles, each time they were asked, which totals nearly 10 dozen.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Timothy G. Dawson, Training and Doctrine Command's MWD manager, once the first few packages were shipped to MWD teams, the doors started opening and donations started pouring in.
"So far, Linda, Lydia and crew have collected more than $2,200 from over 100 individuals and businesses in their local areas," Dawson said. "They have received so many donations that they are sending out small packages every couple of weeks, bypassing the original plan to send out packages every four to six weeks.
"She asked me to provide her with more names of Soldiers so she could spread her and her friend's generosity," Dawson said. "I contacted several more handlers and program managers and got the ball rolling for her."
Besides obtaining Doggles, another project for the group is trying to get boots to protect the dogs' feet from the hot sand.
Cunningham - whom Ross nicknamed the "war dog coordinator" for spearheading the donation drive - said since sending initial donations to the Soldiers, she has become even more driven to take care of their needs.
"I cannot imagine the anguish the family members must feel while the Soldiers are deployed away from their families," she said. "Now that I've been writing to them, I feel like 'Mother Hen.'"
She said she is always worried about their well-being and their safe return home.
Cunningham's concern has impressed Dawson.
"The amazing thing about this woman and her support staff is that they are doing this on their own time and asking nothing in return. They just want to show their support to the MWD teams and let them know the American people support them and wish them the best in these troubled times," he said. "I've told her on more than one occasion that she is a great American and a hero in my book. Not many people go above and beyond, and she and her support staff have gone way beyond to support our troops, which she has no ties to."
Cunningham's generosity has impressed not only Dawson but the deployed MWD teams as well. For example, when Sgt. Randy Quaine, who is assigned to Fort Sill, Okla., returned from deployment to Afghanistan, he said he planned to meet Cunningham when he visited his family in Michigan while he was on leave. "I want to personally thank her for her kindness and generosity," he said.
"As most Soldiers who are deployed know, getting mail is one of the most important morale boosters anyone can receive," said Sgt. Laurian Artise, also of Fort Sill. "Sometimes, when Mongo and I were out at the gate, I felt like I wasn't really all that important, but when I got that email and package from Linda Cunningham, and read how much she and all her coworkers appreciated us for what we do, it made me feel like I really was important and I was making a difference.
It made me stop and think that I really was keeping the folks at home safe from the terror the Taliban and other terrorist groups inflicted on our great country. I would like to thank Linda and all the others who thought of us and took the time out of their busy days to take care of us and boost our spirits. They are the reason I am proud to be in the Army."
Staff Sgt. Anthony Jessup of Fort Bliss, Texas, said he was also grateful to Cunningham and others who sent packages to the Soldiers. "Things got rough for us at times, and our morale was beginning to dampen," he said. "But with their caring hearts, we were able to pull through the rough times. I can't express enough how thankful we are."
Staff Sgt. Michael Sytsma of Fort Gordon, Ga., who is currently on his second volunteered deployment and in the heart of Baghdad, said he is also thankful.
"We think Linda is great," said Sytsma, who was excited the Doggles had arrived. "We greatly appreciate all her efforts. Both these ladies (Cunningham and Ross) and all the people who are donating their time, items and money to help us out over here are wonderful. I cannot express in words how much we appreciate it. Mail is the best morale booster there is over here. When a package arrives, it is like Christmas for us."
Dawson said Cunningham and Ross have sent other items that really come in handy for the dog handlers. Some of these items include collapsible water bowls, rawhide chews, nail clippers, eyewash and ear cleaner.
"The biggest part was giving to the Soldiers," he said. "They would ask the Soldiers what they needed, and the Soldiers were like, 'Thank you, we don't need anything.' But (Cunningham and Ross) were persistent and, after a few times, the Soldiers finally admitted to wanting some good coffee to drink and some jerky to chew on."
"That really broke my heart," Cunningham said. "Here are these Soldiers, in the midst of who knows what kind of danger is around them, and the only thing they asked for was real coffee and some beef jerky. It is amazing how humble they are."
She said making donations to the deployed Soldiers has given her a new perspective on the Global War on Terrorism.
"It has definitely changed the way I view the war," she explained. "Before becoming involved with the dog handlers, it was just a war that was seen on TV. Now it has become a lot more personal. Now anytime I hear about something happening over there, I'm even more concerned for the Soldiers. I worry about their safety every day."
"We love being able to help the Soldiers in Iraq," Di Lullo said. "The first time we were contacted, it really made us feel that we could help some people and some dogs over there. It certainly was a point of pride for the company.
"We appreciate the opportunity to help, and we will keep doing it as long as we're needed," he said.
Cunningham constantly keeps in touch with the Soldiers in Iraq, as she monitors their needs and prepares to send them more goodies.
"I've found out that Staff Sgt. Sytsma's group of dogs has received their heavy-duty boots the airedale people [the North American Airedale Association, which Ross is affiliated with] got for the dogs to protect their feet from the hot ground," she said. "Boots and Doggles, now that should be a great picture!"