Army veteran Marjorie K. Eastman was exchanging war stories with her Operation Iraqi Freedom battle buddies and reminiscing about the deck of cards that infamously showcased "Iraqi Most Wanted" when she had an idea: Why not produce a new version?
But instead of terrorists in the deck, with Saddam on the ace of spades, how about a deck celebrating veterans and military family leaders for their groundbreaking work back home?
A year later, she cold-called Michael Slaughter, president of the United States Playing Card Company, maker of Bicycle playing cards, with the idea. He was immediately in.
The original deck of Iraqi Most Wanted, designed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, was famously distributed in 2003 to special operators in the field to help them identify and capture fugitive government officials.
Frontline Leaders, a new, limited-edition collectible deck of cards from Bicycle, features 52 veteran leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and forward-thinkers. The deck will be available only during 2019. Every branch of the military is represented, as well as Gold Star families and military spouses.
"When we think of the post-9/11 military and veteran community, the examples in this deck of cards are what I want people to think of," Eastman said.
The deck takes the Iraqi Most Wanted idea, but shuffles those featured from notorious to impactful. Bunker Labs, a nonprofit aimed at veteran entrepreneurs, replaces Saddam on the ace of spades. Uday Hussein, previously on the ace of hearts, is replaced by Team Red, White and Blue, which focuses on veteran and community connection.
"When I first heard about the project, I was on board right away," Slaughter said. "It's an honor to feature these veterans and help raise awareness for all the great service they do every day for this country."
Eastman said the cards "represent a deeper narrative about the post 9/11 military community -- stories about grit, sacrifice, passion, compassion, innovation and leadership."
She said she hopes they will help bridge the gap between civilians and veterans and deepen understanding of the important role veterans play in our communities.
"I've always been looking for a way to pay it forward to the military and veteran communities," Eastman said. "And when I started this project, I began featuring veterans on playing cards and sharing out to the veteran and military communities. I never imagined it would become an actual deck and feature these exceptional veterans and military families."
Among those featured is lifestyle apparel company Grunt Style, which is represented as the king of spades, replacing Ali Hassan Majid, an Iraqi general whose use of chemical weapons on the Kurdish region of Iraq ultimately led to his execution.
"We're excited to be a part of this deck," said Grunt Style CEO Daniel Alarik, a former Army drill sergeant. "When I announced this to our employees, they were shocked. … We're just in awe of this project, and we hope it inspires others to celebrate and support veterans."
Eastman also hopes the effort will help break down veteran stereotypes and flip the narrative on the high number of tragic veteran suicides. The deck of cards includes 22 veteran charities, representative of the estimated 22 daily veteran suicides. (Recent estimates put the suicide rate at 20 per day.)
Not all of the charities featured are well-known. For example, Catch A Lift Fund, featured as the five of hearts, helps wounded warriors heal and recover through innovative adaptive physical fitness programs and support services.
"It is a privilege and an honor to have Catch A Lift Fund highlighted in the Frontline Leaders deck," Lynn Coffland, the fund's founder and president, said in an email. "Eastman served with my brother, Army Cpl. Christopher Coffland, on the deployment in which he was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009, so the five of hearts, our card, has a very personal and special meaning for us."
According to Bicycle, a portion of the proceeds sold on its site will be donated to the 22 charities featured in the collectible deck. To find out more about the deck, visit Marjorie Eastman's Frontline Leaders site. The cards are also available from other retailers such as Amazon.
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