These Soldiers Had a Ball with Your Support
Men, dogs, and tennis balls are coming home from the war.
Capt. Patrick Wilson and men and dogs of the 4th Brigade Combat Team Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) deployed from Fort Bragg to Afghanistan. They are expected to be on their way home this week.
Before leaving Afghanistan, men and dogs posed for a photo behind a big pile of tennis balls.
People here and across the country had been sending the balls to them on the other side of the world in support of their mission: find and render harmless the enemy’s explosive devices that otherwise take lives. These dogs get tennis balls as a reward; it’s part of their training.
The captain and his team found they had a tough time getting enough balls to do the job. His 120 dogs are trained to search out and alert when they encounter explosives. The balls are used to reward the dogs when they save lives by finding explosive devices. They get paid two ways, with a pat on the back and the toss of a ball. Soldiers handling the dogs needed tennis balls.
With 120 dogs, going through two or three balls per dog every week, Wilson’s team needed 360 tennis balls a week. His mother, Christine Jepson, wanted to come to their aid.
“The dogs’ only reward is the praise of their handlers and a tennis ball,” she said. “When I asked him what I could do to help, he responded ‘Send tennis balls.’ So that’s what I did.”
Christine Jepson began by setting out ball collection boxes in the Sandhills. Word of what she was doing spread, and soon cases, cartons, boxes, pickup beds, sacks — all full of tennis balls — started pouring in. One lady in Chicago sent 3,000 directly to Jepson in Afghanistan. Another, in Texas, wanted to adopt a soldier/dog team. A lady from Georgia drove up, her vehicle packed with balls.
These aren’t Army dogs, and are trained differently. Army dogs are trained using a more expensive, different kind of ball known as a Kong ball. Kong balls last longer, but cost more. Jepson’s team uses dogs trained by a contractor using tennis balls instead.
His mom’s little plan to help exploded, and tennis ball donors grew in numbers rapidly. She was able to send — or have the others send — a thousand or more balls a month to help the troops in Afghanistan.
The effort meant a lot to those soldiers and let them know they had Americans back home behind them.
“You will never know how much this means to these young soldiers,” Wilson said Thursday in an email from the war zone accompanying photos of the men, the dogs and the balls.
They all posed with huge, hand-lettered cardboard signs bearing big, bold, black letters:
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell @gmail.com.
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