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Flat Daddy Dolls Ease Burden
Deutsche Presse-Agentur  |  September 04, 2006
San Francisco - They may be thousands of kilometres away from home fighting a harrowing and controversial war, but the hundreds of part-time Soldiers of the Maine National Guard now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are never far from their families.

The Flat Daddy programme provides life size cardboard cut outs of the servicemen and women to their families to help ease the pain of separation. Families provide National Guard personnel with the photos, which are enlarged, printed and stuck on pieces of foam from the waist up.

"The idea is that if you have a birthday party or a wedding, you take the 'Flat Daddys' and sit them in a chair and take a photo," explained Sergeant First Class Barbara Claudel, the state family- support director who began the programme. "Then you send a photo to your Soldier and say 'Sorry you weren't here but you were really.'"

But the two-dimensional substitutes must not be limited to appearances at family festivities. And its not only Flat Daddys. Caudel says that there are Flat Mommys, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends.

Families say that they often take the avatars for rides in cars and sit them at the dinner table. The Boston Globe reported that some are even taken on visits to the dentist or to confessionals at the family church.

The Maine National Guard currently has 367 of its 2,000 part-time Soldiers on 18 month stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, said public affairs officer Captain Shanon Cotta.

Claudel said that six of the Guard's servicemen have been killed on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, and dozens have returned with post traumatic stress disorder.

"It's very hard, so we try to do whatever we can to make things easier," she said.

Sometimes however the popularity of the replicas can cause problems. "Families sometimes want a few, so everyone can enjoy them," Claudel says.

"We tell them it's like the real thing. They can only have one."

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