TAMPA — As a child of Army service members, Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson says he cherished the dog tags his father gave him before leaving for deployment.
"I thought they were the coolest thing as a kid, and I always wanted to hold them," Jackson said. "He'd always give me a set every time he had to go away for a while."
A similar scene plays out in Danny Dogtags: Dealing With Deployment, a new book Jackson and his wife, Lindsey, wrote to help military families prepare for the emotional impact of deployment. "There's no stories out there. There's nothing to help those parents," Jackson said. "How do you break that ice? How do you sit your kid down and talk about how you're going to be deployed for a long time?"
The Jacksons hope to fill this void with a series of books about Danny Dogtags, a boy who struggles with news of his father's impending deployment to the Middle East until he meets a Bucs player with a similar background.
The Jacksons read their new book to a room full of 80 "Youth in Action'' campers at the Bucs training facility Friday morning. The one-day camp is for children of military personnel. When Vincent asked the kids how many had a parent who had been deployed, nearly all raised their hands.
Tahj Hayden, 10, said he could relate to some of the discussions Danny and his father had in the book.
"Before my dad left, he told me I have more responsibilities with him gone," said Hayden, whose father is currently deployed to Kuwait.
Jackson said the idea for the book came about five years ago when he was playing for the Chargers in San Diego, another city with a large military population.
Lindsey, a former kindergarten teacher, said the process of writing and publishing the book took about a year and a half and proved to be more challenging than she expected.
"Right when the book was done and the illustrator had just finished up all the drawings, the logo and the uniform changed on us," she said. "We had to go back to the illustrator and redo all the pictures, so that was little bit of a setback. But we were glad it happened when it did, so we were able to get the most accurate-looking book."
Many details in the book draw from Jackson's own experience. In the story, Danny befriends a Bucs player whose father was deployed to Panama, just as Jackson's was.
But the Jacksons also consulted with military parents before they started writing.
"It was very helpful to go through real parents here in our local area (and ask them). 'What are some things your kids have asked you? What are some things you need?' " Jackson said.
The resounding answer from parents? Less fighting between siblings and more help around the house.
"So that was something we wanted to include," Jackson said with a laugh.
Danny Dogtags is available in local bookstores and at the Bucs team store online. All proceeds aid military families through the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation.
Contact Victoria Jacobsen at [email protected]