HISTORY OF “SUPPORT OUR 4 LEGGED SOLDIERS”
Who I Am and Why I Started SO4LS
I’m a retired police office now working as a School Security Resource Officer at Macopin Middle School and have volunteered in many capacities. Several years ago I read an article about military working dogs which piqued my interest and I began doing research. After countless hours I came across the US War Dogs Web site and was lucky enough to develop a rapport with founder and former Vietnam MWD handler. He put me in contact with a MWD Team in Afghanistan and I started sending items to MWD ZZazu and his handler. Shortly after I had sent my last package to Afghanistan, I decided to bring my German Shepherd, Niki, to the Memorial Day Parade dressed in a cooling vest, doggles and mutt lucks to support her 4-legged soldiers as we supported our 2 legged troops. She was a real hit! But the true impetus to start the organization was when a soldier on leave from Iraq approached me and thanked me for bringing attention to how valuable the MWD Teams were to the soldier’s in active duty’s safety. My interest in assisting our MWD Teams evolved and I started “Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers”.
Care Packages Make A Difference
With the aide of Ron Aiello of www.uswardogs.org I made contact with MWD Team members from the 332 ESFG/K9 Joint Base Balad, Iraq. To my surprise I had to pester her to find out what their needs were. She informed me that they were pretty well off and that there were other Teams that could use my help. I continued to make contact with her and my association with the 332 ESFG/K9 took hold. Since that first contact I have had the pleasure of assisting them. Bear in mind they would rather not impose upon us here and it’s clear they understand the cost of sending care packages overseas. As of this date I have been able to send out over $3000.00 worth of care packages by purchasing much needed gear for MWD teams, countless baked goodies, hundreds of cards and letters thanking the troops from students and staff. Knowing they are appreciated helps our soldiers do a better job and in turn makes for a superior MWD Team.
This has been accomplished in part by assistance from Kayla Ward and Natalie Certosimo of WMHS DECA, the Macopin Student Council, students and staff and generous donations from township organizations and businesses like the Elks, the WMPBA , DeMarco’s, and Greenwood Lake Animal Hospital, to name a few. Much of these donations are due to direct contact with the DECA program. DECA’s involvement started last school (2208-2009) year when I approached Mrs. Blom with a request to assist me in my project. The students began helping me by doing a small fund raiser at DeMarcos Pizza and penny wars at the high school. This started the ball rolling yet I had no idea what was in store for my organization this school year. Enter Natalie, Kayla and the Macopin School Student Council. In the fall of 2009 the Macopin School council initiated support stickers and buttons for donations. Then they started the “Paws of Love Campaign” where they sold paper paws to help purchase gear for the MWD’s. (the Paws were sent to the soldiers in Iraq).. Natalie and Kayla from West Milford High School DECA give up their time off during the Christmas break and set up support tables at Sears, A&P and Walgreens on four separate occasions. They sold bake goods, Support T-Shirts and gave out flyers. They continued their efforts with a “Paws of Love Campaign” in the high school. In fact, they made it their DECA NJ State Project which they landed 3rd place for their efforts. Mrs. Blom, Kayla and Natalie along with the representatives from Macopin Middle School, the Student Council Representatives have been presented with certificate of appreciation from “Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers” but more impressively Certificates of Appreciation from the 332 ESFG/K9 (Expeditionary Security Forces Group /K9) signed by – Kennel Masters TSgt. Mark Ochoa or TSgt. Chris Manning. Obviously the support I have received from Macopin and the High School would have not been possible without the support from the Administration, Mrs. Reinhold and Mrs. Bernstock. I owe them many thanks.
Gift of Gratitude
During my contact with the Kennel Masters over the past year they continuously thank me and my organization for our assistance. To this day it’s humbling to imagine that they are thanking us for what we are doing. TSgt. Ochoa ended his e-mails with “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” Something he instilled in his K9 group but believes every person should heed. I made a comment to him about something I live by, try to instill in my family and every kid I have come in contact with when a problem arises: “Solutions Not Excuses”. His response to me “Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers” is as follows, and I quote:
Frank , ‘solutions, not excuses’ is defiantly the way we must operate in this combat environment”. I might have to use that quote from time to time. Overall all is well here at JBB, another Holiday Season is upon us and the mission continues. As for me this is my 5th deployment over the Holidays. I had become somewhat desensitized to the Holidays, but recently have had a change of heart. Leading 13 fellow Airman has led me to have a different take on the holidays. It’s truly interesting to see how morale can be lifted from a simple package or support letter. Even better a baked cake! Your teams have really impacted the way I view things. I’m taken by the level commitment by your organization, students, staff and community toward the Military Working Dog program here at JBB. In past deployments I cannot recall very much support if any. Knowing that young students are taking a vested interest into our mission makes the mission that much easier knowing people do really care. I have told my 9 yr old daughter, and 7 yr. old son, about how 4 Legged Soldiers has many students engaged in the program. I told them I truly hope they find something similar to take interest in; I’m a true believer that community involvement sets a great foundation for tomorrow’s leaders. More of your goodies have arrived and we are so thankful. Also thank you for the cards and letters, we have posted them on our kennel office walls.
Your Help Can Boost Morale
Since my original commitment to supplying items like cooling vests, doggles, mutt lucks, dog meds., etc. I’ve learned that those items most needed depend on the location of the teams. To this date I primarily send goodies to the Teams for both the 2 and 4 legged soldiers. The 332 ESFG /K9 Kennel Masters have advised me that at Joint Base Balad their dogs are very well taken care of health wise but they do periodically need toys for training and their R&R, items like the travel water bottles as well as treats. It’s vital we show our support by sending as many letters and care packages to these brave men and women so they continue to realize that as they place their lives on the line for us, we respect and support them. Like one Kennel Master remarked, “It’s amazing how a letter, card or goodies from home, especially from a stranger, boosts morale!”
Please Thank A Soldier and Remember All of Our Heroes
I urge American’s to please keep in mind when you see a soldier, or a soldier’s family, thank them for their sacrifices. Also, remember the 4 legged soldiers who faithfully serve and protect their handlers. Anything that anyone can do to bring to light and touch on the story of the MWD Teams is greatly appreciated by my small organization, the 332 ESFG/K9 (Expeditionary Security Forces Group /K9) and all the service dogs worldwide.
Support SO4LS and May God Bless Us!
It is my deepest hope that “Support Our 4 Legged Soldiers” will continue to grow and gain support as we educate the citizens of the United States about the vital role our Military Working Dog Teams play here and abroad. May God Bless us all and protect our troops. Give special attention to March 13th! It’s K9 Veterans Day here in West Milford, NJ.