FORT MONROE, VA -- The military police motto "of the troops and for the troops" has been taken to heart by some American citizens concerned for the Army's four-legged troops: the military working dogs.
The MWD teams, an intricate part of the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, devote many hours to various missions -- many of these behind the scenes. The dogs work in heat and sandstorms, just like their human team members.
The dogs' welfare and the Soldiers' efforts prompted Linda Cunningham from Hillsdale, Mich., "to do her part.
"I just wanted to let Soldiers know the people at home appreciate their efforts in the Middle East," said Cunningham, who works at Hillsdale's Family Independence Office and volunteers at the local humane society. "I also wanted to send goodies for the dogs because the dogs are providing a service to their country as well."
Cunningham said that when she was contacted by one of her co-workers about making a contribution to Soldiers serving in Iraq, they talked about aiding the MWDs specifically. Cunningham's research yielded an idea -- Doggles for the dogs to protect their eyes from the desert sandstorms.
Cunningham, her co-workers and friend Lydia Ross of Seattle, Wash., solicited donations to purchase the Doggles. The Doggles Company, which is based in North Carolina, agreed to sell the protective eyewear to the group at wholesale prices.
"(The decision to send the goggles to the dogs) was actually pretty simple," explained Ken Di Lullo of the Doggles Co. "We were contacted several times, mostly by vets in Iraq. All it takes is a simple e-mail telling us what the need is, and we ship it out. Protecting the eyes of the military working dogs seems to be a big problem in Iraq, with the sandstorms."
He said his company has sent the dog handlers at least a dozen Doggles, each time they were asked, which totals nearly 10 dozen.
According to Sgt. 1st Class Timothy G. Dawson, Training and Doctrine Command's MWD manager, once the first few packages were shipped to MWD teams, the doors started opening and donations started pouring in.
"So far, Linda, Lydia and crew have collected more than $2,200 from over 100 individuals and businesses in their local areas," Dawson said. "They have received so many donations that they are sending out small packages every couple of weeks, bypassing the original plan to send out packages every four to six weeks.
"She asked me to provide her with more names of Soldiers so she could spread her and her friend's generosity," Dawson said. "I contacted several more handlers and program managers and got the ball rolling for her."
Besides obtaining Doggles, another project for the group is trying to get boots to protect the dogs' feet from the hot sand.
Cunningham - whom Ross nicknamed the "war dog coordinator" for spearheading the donation drive - said since sending initial donations to the Soldiers, she has become even more driven to take care of their needs.
"I cannot imagine the anguish the family members must feel while the Soldiers are deployed away from their families," she said. "Now that I've been writing to them, I feel like 'Mother Hen.'"
She said she is always worried about their well-being and their safe return home.
Cunningham's concern has impressed Dawson.
"The amazing thing about this woman and her support staff is that they are doing this on their own time and asking nothing in return. They just want to show their support to the MWD teams and let them know the American people support them and wish them the best in these troubled times," he said. "I've told her on more than one occasion that she is a great American and a hero in my book. Not many people go above and beyond, and she and her support staff have gone way beyond to support our troops, which she has no ties to."