Operation Give a Hug’ helps military kids cope with deployment

WAHIAWA, HI (KHNL) – One of the most difficult struggles our military families face is helping their children understand and cope with the complications of deployment. Half of them are under the age of 5 and susceptible to symptoms like separation anxiety and depression.

Studies show that the effects of military deployment on children can be extreme. So the Army wives of Schofield are gearing up with a new tool that can help their children through difficult times. They’re called Daddy Dolls.

“Its just a great distraction for children who’s parents are deployed, its something that reminds them of Mom or dad who’s not here, you can dinner with this doll or watch a movie and its almost like havin’ Mom or dad there with em. Anytime you can take away from the fact that that parents missing its a good thing,” said Paula Katers, family readiness group adviser.

Little Alyx Dudenhoeffer knows thats not her daddy doll because her daddy doll looks just like, well, her daddy. Dressed in Army fatigues, with her Daddy’s smile, he even comes with tags that have important information for Mom.

“Its been a great tool, to help he can cuddle with it, he can love on it, he can even take his frustrations out on it. He can bang it on thew floor if he needs to. At 3 years old its really hard to express your feelings and I’ll hear him in his room talking at night telling daddy everything he did during the day,” said Jena Siegrist, whose husband is on his third deployment in Iraq.

There are other versions of the Daddy doll, but these come from Operation Give a Hug in Tacoma, Washington. With the help of the US Army they have provided dolls free of charge to over 75,000 children around the world, and now in Hawaii.

“We use books, we use calender countdowns, we use a kiss a night, but this has been the one thing that we found that’s been sticking for the past three months since my husband’s been gone,” said Siegrist.

The doll doesn’t come without controversy, some experts worry that children might be confused or might become more attached to the dolls than their fathers. This past Christmas little Kensley Penny from North Carolina seemed to put those doubts to rest. On Santa’s lap, with Daddy Doll in hand, there were only two things on her list, a blue truck, and her Daddy.

The goal of “Operation Give a Hug” is to get a doll to every child with a parent who is deployed, from every branch of the military. But they work purely by donations and volunteers. To read more… click here.

Operation Give a Hug