Military deployments can be hard on families, especially children. One local girl has found a way to feel closer to her deployed father while bringing a little happiness to other soldiers in the process.

11-year-old Kindel Whitaker of Chipley was born while her father, Army National Guard Captain Shane Whitaker, was deployed. Capt. Whitaker is currently deployed with the 135th Expeditionary Sustainment Army National Guard Unit for a year-long tour to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

Pulling the idea from the rock scavenging trend that spread across the U.S.in recent years, the father and daughter decided to use her talent as an artist to paint rocks and send to him as a way to do something together despite being thousands of miles apart.

When Whitaker receives the rocks, he hides them for other soldiers to find. Similar to the way other rock hunts work, the soldiers can reference the social media information provided on the rock to post photos to the project’s Facebook page.

Rocks have been found in Kentucky, Germany and Kuwait, all stops Shane made on his way overseas.

“I love art and like to think of myself as an artist,” said Kindel. “I decided to start painting rocks and send them to Papa to hide for all soldiers to find and hopefully bring a smile to their faces. Our hope is that the soldiers will keep them or even maybe re-hide them on different bases across the world and post on our page.”

Kindel’s mom, Jessica Whitaker, says painting the rocks has been therapeutic for her daughter. 

“Deployments have always been hard on Kindel,” she said. “She has heard the story of her being born while Papa was deployed for her entire life, and she feels a little angry because he seems to always be gone on her birthday. Painting rocks has been like therapy for her. It is her artistic outlet. This is something special between her and her Papa, something only they share.”

Kindel says she is a “huge Disney fan” and looks to Pinterest for inspiration. 

“I love Disney, and that is why I painted the Flounder rock,” she said. “When I get an idea, I look on Pinterest to find just the right picture that I would like to paint.” Kindel also takes requests for rocks. She has painted rocks for a soldier in Advanced Individual Training, as well as for veterans. Requests can be made by sending a message to her Facebook page.

Each rock holds a special message of support for the military, but Kindel says she has a special message for on soldier in particular – her papa.

“I miss you and I love you, Papa,” she says.

For more information, or to see Kindel’s rocks, visit “Kindel’s Rocks for Soldiers” on Facebook.

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