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Carrie Pipkin, a computer specialist with the Army Community Services office in Würzburg, Germany, edited a series of coloring books for children of 1st Infantry Division servicemembers. The books help the children cope with the unit’s upcoming deployment to Iraq.
Carrie Pipkin, a computer specialist with the Army Community Services office in Würzburg, Germany, edited a series of coloring books for children of 1st Infantry Division servicemembers. The books help the children cope with the unit’s upcoming deployment to Iraq. (Steve Liewer / s&s)

WüRZBURG, Germany — In the jumble of confusion before 12,000 1st Infantry Division soldiers head to Iraq, their children have two friends to help sort things out.

The friends are “Matt,” age 7½, and “Anna,” age 4. The fictional youngsters are the stars of two coloring books produced by Army Community Service to help children cope with the long deployment.

Through some creative editing by Carrie Pipkin, a computer whiz in the Würzburg ACS office, Matt’s and Anna’s soldier daddies wear the “Big Red One” patch on their shoulders and are heading to Iraq, too.

“We said, ‘Hey, this is a great tool. Why can’t we make it specific to the 1st ID?’ ” said Capt. Bill Coppernoll, who served on a 1st ID committee that came up with the idea to adapt the books while brainstorming ways to ease deployment stress. “Otherwise, it’s just another coloring book.”

The books, called “We’re an Army Family” and “Daddy Deploys to Iraq” are part of a series published for the Army by Operation Ready, a team of extension agents from Texas A&M and the University of California-Riverside.

Karen Varcoe, co-author of the books, said they were created in the early 1990s and updated following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which ramped up the number of military deployments worldwide.

“The intent is that everyone will use them, and they can localize them,” Varcoe said. “It makes [the children] think it’s just for them.”

The books are designed for different age groups, but the storyline is similar: Dad’s 1st ID unit is deploying for Iraq; the child and his friends must cope with mixed feelings of sadness, fear, pride and anger; with the help of mother and teachers, they work hard and keep in touch; and everyone is happy when Dad comes home safely.

Matt and Anna describe their experiences and the things they do while their fathers are away, such as drawing pictures for him, watching tapes and stories he makes for them, sending e-mail, and using M&M’s candy to count the days until he comes back.

To make it more real for youngsters from the Würzburg-based 1st ID, Pipkin and an ACS team rewrote the text to add references to the division and Iraq. She spent two weeks using a computer photo-editing program to drop in Big Red One patches and posters into the pictures.

“We wanted to help the kids visualize what was going on, that it wasn’t some fairyland [the soldiers] were going off to,” Pipkin said.

ACS distributed the coloring books in December with a letter from the division commander, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, urging parents to “use the children’s books as a means to interact and prepare your children.” Hundreds were given to school counselors, and dozens more handed out at the opening of “yellow ribbon rooms” for families at 1st ID bases.

“The response to it was huge,” said Kaitlin King, an ACS worker who distributed them in Würzburg. “The kids just ate it up.”

Dan Riley, a counselor at Würzburg American Elementary School, said teachers sent the books home with children just before the winter break. He said an informal survey after the holiday indicated 60 percent to 70 percent of the youngsters used them with their parents.

“We gave one to every student,” he said. “We told them it should be part of their personal library.”

ACS is planning a companion book called “Mommy Deploys to Iraq.” That will take a little extra work with Pipkin’s photo-editing program.

“People still associate soldiers with men,” said Peggy Gutierrez, who worked with Pipkin on the books and whose soldier-husband is serving in Iraq. “But there’s a lot of mommies who deploy, too.”

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