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Military Families Fill Void with 'Flat Daddies'

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Military Families Fill Void with 'Flat Daddies'

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Military Families Fill Void with 'Flat Daddies'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Here's an unusual way to keep a sense of connection with a family member who has been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan - a life-sized cardboard cutout. The Maine National Guard has begun offering what it calls a Flat Daddy, or for that matter a Flat Mommy, Flat Son or Flat Daughter. Sergeant First Class Barbara Claudel is the Maine National Guard's Family Program director.

Sergeant First Class BARBARA CLAUDEL (Maine National Guard): As soon as we learn that a unit's being deployed, we bring the families together and we introduce our Flat Chaplain, actually, is who I carry with me, because he is deployed to Afghanistan.

So we talk about communication and keeping in touch with our families, and this is one way that they can do that, and we offer it to them. And either we take the picture of the soldier or they can e-mail us a good quality digital picture, and then we blow it up basically and print it off, and then we either provide it to the families or we get like a gathering - we call it a Flat Daddy party - where they come together and they cut them out and they put him together.

BLOCK: They're gluing it on to something?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: Yeah. They use foam board and we spray adhesive glue, and basically they just cut out the picture, and then they use the spray adhesive to spray him on to the foam board and them cut him out again, and voila, there he is big as life.

BLOCK: Now I've got to back you up. Did you say Flat Chap?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: Flat Chap. That's my chaplain. We call him Flat Chap.

BLOCK: And you carry him around in your car?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: Well, when I go to briefings I do. I don't personally take him everywhere with me, because his wife takes him, I'm sure, other places, but he does stay in our office. I tend to talk to him every now and then.

BLOCK: What have you heard from families about how they're using these flat versions of their family members?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: They love them. That's why they ask for them. But I've heard, you know, a lot of different things. I've heard the parents have seen the kids, you know, just talking to them when they're down, you know, and they need to vent a little bit. I've seen kids carry them with them to different events, but I've also seen the spouses and the wives and the moms do the same thing, so it's definitely not just the kids.

Some of our families take them to big events, family reunions, weddings, birthday parties, things like that, and then they include the soldier in the pictures that they're taking, and then they e-mail them over and it makes the soldiers feel like they're still part of the family. They've been included and they enjoy it.

BLOCK: Sergeant Claudel, I know this is all in good fun, but I would think there would be families who say I don't need a two-dimensional version of my dad, I need my dad home.

Sergeant CLAUDEL: And there are families that do that. That's why it's always a choice. There's no cookie cutter answer to things. This is one way that we can help families keep connected. Some of them choose to do it and some of them say no, that's just not my thing, and that's great, too.

BLOCK: Have you heard of families who maybe tried it out and then found it just incredibly unsatisfying?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: No, but I have had families that initially will say no, I don't think so, but after they've been gone for a short time or a little longer, they'll say you know, maybe this is something that would be more for us, and they e-mail me the picture and we print them off for them, and so it's a choice.

BLOCK: And you figure you'll be making more of these?

Sergeant CLAUDEL: I expect they will. If that's what they need, if that's what they want, then I guess we will.

BLOCK: Well, Sergeant Claudel, thanks for talking with us.

Sergeant CLAUDEL: Okay, thank you.

BLOCK: Sergeant First Class Barbara Claudel is director of the Maine National Guard Family Program.

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