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CAMP WILLIAMS, Wis. – While nothing can replace a mother or father in uniform deploying halfway across the world for up to a year, the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation is hoping a plush toy dog named “GI Josh” can soften the pains of separation.

During the Feb. 22 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 Lt. Gov. [Rebecca] Kleefisch, U.S. Sen. [Tammy] Baldwin, and with our brave men and women overseas.”

The plush toy came 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.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also encouraged the children to send photos.

“I can assure you that, when Sen. Baldwin and I get those photos, we’ll share them,” Kleefisch said to the children’s parents, “as we will share your stories of tremendous courage and the pride that we have in calling you friends and fellow Wisconsinites.”

Additional Photos (Flickr)