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Deployed 332nd AEW Airman helps kids understand mom’s and dad’s deployments

Puppet Master

U.S. Air Force Maj. Brian Watson, a medical administration officer, uses a puppet he created to talk with deployed Airmen helping them explain what they do and why they serve at the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, May 14, 2021. The puppet, named Chauncey, began with an idea just over a year ago and Watson designed and constructed him in his garage and later refined a voice and a personality for him. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

332nd AIR EXPEDITIONARY WING --

One Airman deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing found a way to reach families, especially children who are back home, waiting patiently for mom or dad to return from the Middle East.

As Maj. Brian Watson, a medical administration officer, prepared for his six-month absence from his wife and three kids he carefully packed an item for the six-thousand mile trip. In April for the Month of the Military Child he introduced Chauncey to the wing, a puppet he made in his garage.

Chauncey, who bears a striking resemblance to Kermit the Frog, visited with Master Sgt. Ryan Dickelman, a first sergeant deployed to the wing, about what he does here and how his family copes with his absence.

“So what makes you want to do this, what makes you happy here,” Chauncey asked.

“I enjoy serving, serving has been a part of my life since before I joined the military,” said Dickelman. “My grandpa and my dad both served in the military and I guess I really like just knowing that I’m here helping protect and keep these people here safe as well as keeping my family and everybody back home safe.”

Chauncey also asked him how his family copes with his absence. “What does your family do when you are here, are they sad that you are away?”

Dickelman responded saying that his family helps support him while he is here and that they talk virtually every week.

For many deployed parents talking with Chauncey helps them make their jobs and their sacrifice relatable to their kids back home.

“Part of the reason I brought Chauncey was not only to be able to call my family, but I knew there’s lots of people like me who have kids at home and for Chauncey to be able to talk to them and bring some joy to their family,” Watson said.

To bring the puppet to life Watson worked out both a voice and a personality for Chauncey. 

“When you get the voice right it just clicks, people start talking to the puppet and it’s like I’m not even there anymore,” he said.

Over the course of several months Chauncey has talked with a number of Airmen who send the video home to their kids.

“What my kids like the most about it was that they got to hear about what I am doing here,” said Capt. Eve Derfelt, a deployed member of the 332nd AEW. “From a character they would pay attention to.”

The notion to make a puppet came to fruition not long ago said Watson. “About a year and a half ago during Christmas break I said, ‘I’m going to make a puppet,’ I had no idea what I was doing.”

That puppet became Chauncey, who sports ping pong balls for eyes, green felt for skin and a hand-made, foam frame. He’s since made another puppet who is a pirate named Long Chin Silver and he has other plans for his puppeteering as well.

“I’d love to be a ventriloquist, one of these days I’ll work on that skill,” he said.