It’s widely believed by military families that the first two weeks following a service deployment are when Murphy’s Law is in full effect.

Anything that can go wrong, will.

For Tricia Dyal, her husband’s deployment to Iraq in 2005 saw that to be true.

“My two kids, the oldest was three at the time and my newborn, were both in the hospital,” Dyal said. “The oldest wanted daddy but we couldn’t do that.”

Like all parents when their child is hurting, Dyal needed to help. Her daughters’ great aunt found a solution in the form of a doll – a quilted doppelganger of Dyal’s husband, now retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Justin Dyal.

“The doctors and nurses all thought it was great,” Dyal said. “For those next nine months that doll was there for all the daddy firsts. First steps, first plane rides. I remember my husband came back and my youngest, Elissa Faith, saw him in his uniform. She threw her hands up and yelled ‘daddy!’ I can still picture her in her little pink jammies.”

Service members face certain peril when deployed in a combat zone. Many are not afraid of the consequences that can come far from home. A bigger fear can be returning to a child not knowing their face. The doll had prevented that from happening. As Dyal started manufacturing the dolls for others, now using photos printed over a stuffed casing, the stories were similar. The dolls were helping.

Recently, a planned 12-week giveaway of the dolls invited a flurry of attention nation-wide. The plan had been to give away one doll a week leading up to April, the month of the military child. A client caught wind on social media and donated $5,000, challenging others to do the same. The demand skyrocketed, with the giveaway continuing, and Dyal has seen her dolls resonate with thousands of families.

“We all share a common story,” Dyal said. “Bedtime is easier with the doll. Pictures of our kids with the doll make it easier on a parent who is deployed. The dolls also help kids process all of the emotions they are experiencing. They’ll hold it, sure, but they’ll also throw it. They’re kids. They don’t know better than to be angry that mommy or daddy isn’t there.”

For men and women deployed, as well as their families, having the doll around to fill that role can bring a bit more comfort when they find themselves home.

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