GI Josh Dogs Program
While nothing can replace a mother or father in uniform deploying halfway across the world for up to a year, the Sons of The American Legion is hoping a plush toy dog named “GI Josh” can soften the pains of separation.
During a sendoff ceremony for 65 members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar – Wisconsin adjutant general – held up a GI Josh and asked the children in attendance if they had received one yet.
“I want you to take lots and lots of pictures of where you’re at with this dog,” Dunbar said. “I want you to send those pictures to us, and we’ll share them … with our brave men and women overseas.” Gen. Dunbar then asked the children in attendance to hold their dogs up!
But something extraordinary and completely unexpected happened. During the ceremony, which was the last time these families were to be together for a while, no one held their dog up. The children were clutching Josh to their chest with tears streaming down their faces. This was to be their connection to their mother or father who were leaving, with an uncertain future, and no one was going to separate them from Josh.
Past Detachment Commander Dan Daily summed up that day by saying “It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. At the end of the day, we did some good here. We provided something to help these children and their families cope with the rigors of deployment. We want these soldiers and their families to know that America is here for them.”
What is GI Josh?
The plush toy dog – wearing a camouflage bandana with the Legion emblem – comes with a book and a letter for adults explaining how GI Josh can be therapeutic for children dealing with a deployed parent.
“They are not toys intended to distract,” the letter states, “but through a compelling story as shared by Josh, the Golden Retriever, who is going through his own difficult situation, your child can find comfort that they are not going through their difficulty alone.”
The book, GI Josh: I’ll Be O.K., is one in a series of books that author Randall L. Lange, a veterinarian, wrote about Josh that explore the human-animal bond. Lange encourages parents and adults to adapt the story for each family’s situation.
The dog and the book were the idea of the Sons of The American Legion, who are devoted to serving veterans and their communities. Its development was funded through a grant of The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation.
In the book, the journey of dogs Josh and Smudge make with young Cassie is chronicled. Cassie’s daddy is sent abroad during our nation’s military operations in the Middle East. Josh and Smudge befriend Cassie, who is lonely and heartbroken over her daddy’s departure. Together they find coping tools which help Cassie during this trying and difficult time. Even though Cassie is still lonely, the love and comfort Josh and Smudge bring to her family helps them soldier through this difficult time together until her daddy’s triumphal return from his deployment.
We witnessed one young boy, who we were told was acting out at home just prior to his dad’s departure. He was restless at the deployment ceremony until he got GI Josh. He took him back to his chair, and began focusing on “caring” for Josh. That family later told us they don’t know how they would have gotten through the separation without Josh.
Who gets a GI Josh Dog?
We give the kits, free of charge, to children with a parent deploying in the military – branch of service doesn’t matter, we just wish to support them while their parent is deployed.
We began this program in 2014, and since then we have distributed over 1,200 dogs across the state at a cost of over $36,000. It has been so impactful the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs makes it a point to reach out to us and ask us to be present at their deployment ceremonies. While we are honored to be invited, we really know that Josh is the superhero.
This amazing program is being championed by the Sons of The American Legion. Local Squadrons work with their Legion Family to raise the funds needed. If you hear about a local family experiencing a deployment – some deployments are small groups without sendoff ceremonies – please let us know so we can bring comfort to a child while their parent is serving. You can contact GI Josh via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also help with information if you wish to support this program.
How can you help?
Here in Wisconsin, the Sons of The American Legion has led the effort to give GI Josh Dogs to Wisconsin kids who have a parent deploying far from home. Unfortunately, there are still more deployments occurring, which means we need to continue to raise funds to support this impactful program. Please consider a donation by downloading our Donation Form and indicating the funds for GI Josh Dog
For more information you can contact Josh via email at email@example.com