BANGOR (AP) – Lt. Col. Randall Holbrook travels just about everywhere with his wife Mary and their two sons, Justin, 14, and Logan, 5.

He’s quietly in the background on family outings to the grocery store, to restaurants, camping, even on Mary’s most recent visit to her gynecologist.

Randall has little to say because he’s a “Flat Daddy,” a two-dimensional foam-board likeness from the waist up of the Maine Army National Guard officer from Hermon who was sent to Afghanistan in January with the 240th Engineer Group of Augusta.

The Guard has provided more than 100 of the cutouts to families of deployed service members as a way to ease the pain of separation. “It’s comforting,” Mary Holbrook told the Bangor Daily News. “It did help me adjust a lot.”

The Flat Daddy – and Flat Mommy – program got started at the beginning of the year with the deployment of the Brewer-based B Company, 3rd Battalion of the 172nd Mountain Infantry. The Guard pays to have a photo of the troop member blown up and provides supplies to families to attach the photo to foam board. Cutouts also are provided to parents and family members of childless service members.

The Holbrooks’ Flat Daddy has been to birthday parties, ballgames, school, the hairdresser, the babysitter’s with Logan, and to the funeral of Mary Holbrook’s mother. Justin dressed him in a Red Sox jersey and hat while watching a baseball game. On Halloween, he had a sumo wrestler outfit.

Taking Flat Daddy out in public can draw some funny looks, Mary Holbrook said, but many tell her they think it’s a great idea. “Any time I get invited somewhere, I take it with me,” she said. And the gynecologist? “He just thought it was really neat,” she said.

When the family first got him, they propped him up in a chair at dinner. “We put plates in front of him the first few days,” Holbrook said. “But he didn’t eat much.”

Even though the idea may seem a little silly at first, the foam board cutout can help alleviate the pain of a loved one’s absence, she said.

“It makes you feel like he’s right there,” she said, as the Flat Daddy of her husband rested in a nearby lawn chair.

At first, Sherri Fish of Bangor thought the head-to-toe Flat Daddy likeness of her husband was a little foolish. But she put it up on the door in her son Kevin’s room when Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Richard Fish deployed to Iraq in March 2005. Kevin, then 3, was angry that his father was gone and wouldn’t speak to him when he called home from Tikrit, Sherri Fish said.

“It was really hard on him,” she said. “It was probably the hardest thing I had to go through while Rich was gone.”

Then Sherri began hearing Kevin talking while alone in his room. “One night, I finally asked him, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And he said, ‘I’m talking to Daddy,” Fish said. “I just about broke down crying.”

Despite his anger at his father, Kevin was able to relate to the life-sized likeness, Sherri Fish said. “He’d sit at the end of his bed and tell him what went on at school that day,” she said.

Even after Richard Fish returned home last October, Kevin continued talking to Flat Daddy while his father was at work, she said.

It’s funny how a piece of foam board can ease a child’s pain so much, she said, “even though it’s just a picture.”


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