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Bruce, her eldest son, “grew up with that, and I trained him,” Burn said.

Reges, a Michigan resident, is a retired teacher who has been in the Army Reserve for 20 years. Called up in the fall, he deployed to Iraq in January, leaving behind his 25-year-old wife, Christy.

His mother’s training has been put to good use in Iraq, where he pulls out a small puppet at almost any opportunity with a child.

“The reaction is immediate,” Reges wrote in a recent e-mail. “The child reaches out, and I look at the mom and raise my eyebrows — like, is it okay? I have never had a parent say no. Every child I have given a puppet to knows exactly what to do with them.

“They put them on and disappear behind Mom’s skirt. I gave one to a little guy . . . and his mom and an aunt smiled so much — it really meant a lot to me.”

Reges has received support from his command and fellow soldiers, although “not all of them get it,” he said via e-mail. One colonel “dressed down” a lieutenant colonel when he spotted the subordinate using a finger puppet to play with a child, Reges said. A few days later, the lieutenant colonel was involved in a house search.

“He told me he wished he had some puppets because the four kids in the house were terrified when our guys went through,” Reges recalled. “I gave him a set of new ones, and he stuck them in his cargo pocket. He wasn’t going to get caught short again.”

Likewise, Reges said, one of the sergeants in his civil affairs team was skeptical but agreed to try the puppets, giving them to some children he encountered. “He came back with this incredible look on his face,” Reges said. “When it works, it’s like magic.”

The puppets have become quite popular in Reges’s unit. He estimates he has given away about 200, including some for a Special Forces unit heading out on long patrols to remote villages.

“I told them to let the medics give them out when they treat kids,” he said. “The puppets never come back.”

Reges sees another important benefit from the puppets. If we are seen as real human beings, it is harder to kill us,” he said. “I had heard rumors of kids cutting command wires to IEDs on the way to school,” to keep the improvised explosive devices from hurting Americans. “Even if it’s not true, I would like to believe it was. So the pocket puppets idea was born.”

Burn, working from her home, has embraced the project. “You know how mothers are,” she said.

She ran out of her supply of Steiff and homemade puppets and has started ordering them from China. She is getting organizational help from relatives and friends living in Northern Virginia and Maryland, including fellow puppeteers Bob and Judy Brown of Oakton.

Burn said: “It’s not going to heal the wounds of that war, but it’s contributing a little comfort and compassion.”
Fo information about the project, go tohttp://www.peacethroughpuppets.com.

Military Matters is published twice each month in the Extras. Steve Vogel may be reached atvogels@washpost.com.