Flat-soldier maker

Interview with Barbara Claudel, Master Sergeant, 43.

Interview by Jeremy Mero, Fortune

(FORTUNE Magazine) -- We started the flat-soldier program in 2005 around Christmastime. Since then, we've done somewhere between 240 and 250 flat soldiers. It was created to connect the families to their troops during long deployments. We take the picture, or the families send us one, and use a plotter to print life-sized images.

Then, at the beginning of the deployment, we have a flat-soldier party at which we prepare all the prints and together we cut them out and put them on foamboard. In the process the families talk about their soldiers and build a network of support. Often we get feedback and pictures of how the flat soldiers are being used. One photo we got showed a little boy who was sleeping with his flat daddy. Another person told us he had taken his soldier to confession. Troops also feel good that their loved ones are including them in daily routines.

I've been in the military 23 years, between active duty and National Guard time, but I've been director here for seven years. In this role I support soldiers and families while they're far away. Each state does it differently. Even when there is controversy over the war, my mission is to serve the soldiers on duty. You can't tell the families that they can't feel a certain way - these are their lives. But I think it's a cool way to show their pride and keep them included, even at the dinner table.  Top of page