Ball Collection for Bomb Dogs Gets Big Bounce
When Christine Jepson started collecting tennis balls for her son, she thought it was just for a week or so.
Patrick Wilson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) team deployed from Fort Bragg in February. The unit he commands uses specially trained dogs to search out improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other explosives.
They need two to three balls a week for each military working dog. Jepson thought if she put boxes around she could collect balls here and send them over there.
It turned out to be a bigger job than she ever dreamed.
“Happily,” Jepson said, laughing. “A lady from Chicago sent 3,000 balls — 3,000! I gave her the (Afghanistan) address, Facebooked my son ‘if you get them’ because — well, you don’t know if someone is telling you the truth or whatever — so I said ‘if you get ’em let me know’ because she is going to want to know and I want to thank her.
“Sure enough I got — on his Facebook — it was ‘OMG! They’re here!’ She sent a whole bunch of dog biscuits, too. What a nice lady!”
Wilson and his team were stunned when the packages began arriving.
“Holy Cow!!!!! I have three huge boxes from them and more from you!” he wrote his mother. “We are planning to take some photos when I can get some of the teams in from their missions. I have to have all of our photos declassified, so it takes me an extra week to get them back. When I do, I will get them to you ; ) Thank you Sooooooo much!”
The dogs in Wilson’s unit find hidden IEDs that are then destroyed or disabled. The dogs save the lives of soldiers every day.
“When they find explosives they are rewarded with a ‘good job!’ from their handler and with a tennis ball,” Jepson said. “That’s what the dogs get for their hard job.”
She started setting out ball boxes at local veterinary offices in March, and at first had little response. Word got out, and balls started bouncing in.
Jennifer Schilling operates a pet boarding business in Chicago and wrote that she had cartons of tennis balls and wanted to know where to send them. Jepson emailed her the address and off those balls went — 3,000 tennis balls in one shipment.
“There are a bunch of happy dogs and handlers here today!” Wilson emailed. “Thank you so much!”
Last week, Jepson and her grandson (Mike Wilson) went out to Union Pines High School to pick up a huge cardboard carton full of tennis balls a local home-school group collected as a service project.
“We were doing a military thing, so we chose doing a service project that would benefit the military,” Lee Warner said. “We are ‘Christian Home Educators of the Sandhills’ and we have 150 kids today.”
The group presented Jepson and her grandson with the box of balls which they lugged off for packing and shipping.
“I could take pictures of lots of balls in my tack room!” Jepson said. “We’ve sent 1,100. I have 600 to go now. I send one box a week. With the ones from Chicago that makes 4,100 that have been sent. There are 600 more set to go now — plus these.”
Word spread over the Internet. A woman phoned Jepson to say she’d be driving up from Georgia in mid-June with a car full. Jepson didn’t set up a website when she started. One may be in the works if somebody volunteers to help out with one.
“It was going to be short-lived, so I didn’t bother,” she said. “So far I have emptied every ball box twice. Cared for Canine asked — when I was getting theirs for the second time — were they ahead of everybody else. I said no, there was Dr. Lyerly over at Whispering Pines Animal Hospital. I’d already emptied hers twice.”
Even with the success so far, Jepson still needs more balls. Lots more balls. Soldiers in Wilson’s unit go through two to three balls a week for each dog. There are 125 dogs.
“So, that is well over a thousand a month,” Jepson said. “They will be there until Sept. 30, so that would be over 8,000, well over 8,000.”
Military working dogs face many of the same dangers as troops in combat. Wilson’s handlers and their dogs patrol together, linked by a leash and a mutual understanding. In Afghanistan military dogs die as a result of attacks, heat exhaustion and other causes.
In addition to the tennis balls (new or gently used) used as a training reward, other care package items for the dogs could include one-ingredient treats (such as freeze-dried liver), Nylabone chews and toys, unscented shampoo with oatmeal added to prevent dry skin, collapsible water bowls, and leather leashes.
Young Wilson said his father is “a pretty cool guy.”
“He’s six foot nine, so I’ve always looked up to him,” he said. “Literally.”
Before his father left on his first deployment he surprised his sons at school.
“He got me and my brother out and explained to us what was going on,” he said. “We were pretty young at the time.”
The boy was 9 years old at the time. He is 17 now and a junior at Union Pines.
“He took us out for the day, told us what was happening, but we weren’t old enough to comprehend the whole of what was going on,” he said. “This time was harder, because I am actually able to understand where he is going and what he is doing.”
Tennis balls and treats for the dogs top the list, but soldiers could use other items as well.
“A lady asked him one time what they could send,” Jepson said. “He said, ‘Just send us toys; these kids don’t have anything.’ He’s got a soft spot for kids — always has had. Some people just have integrity, you know? He’s got that. He’s a man.”
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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