WASHINGTON, D.C. –
“Daddy, I don’t want you to go!” says a young girl as she hugs her dad and her eyes well up with tears. It’s a dreaded moment for loved ones and one that most all service members face as they depart for various missions. One Utah Soldier found a way to alleviate his daughter’s sadness through a small, yet significant stuffed animal.
Capt. Jeffrey Dallin Belnap, Public Affairs Officer with Utah’s 128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, has been serving in Washington D.C. as one of the Utah National Guard’s 350 Soldiers sent to the nation’s Capitol to help secure the 59th presidential inauguration. On Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, Belnap was notified he was being assigned to travel to Washington, D.C. with Task Force Utah. His leadership simply said he’d need to report to Camp Williams, Utah the very next day.
“The night I found out, I was sitting with my kids–my five-year-old daughter and my three-year-old son,” said Belnap. “I told them I was going to be going away on an Army mission for a couple of days and I wasn’t sure when I would be coming back.”
After hearing the news, his daughter immediately started tearing up and it was apparent that she was a little scared. She ran to her father and hugged him tight.
Following some consoling and explaining of the mission, Belnap’s daughter suggested, “Daddy, you can take one of my stuffies with you, if you want.” His heart melted as he chose between her two favorite stuffed animals–a little kitty, and a barn owl. Belnap chose the barn owl.
Last summer, Belnap took his kids to the Golden Spike Monument in Promontory, Utah so that they could see the two trains on display there, the “Jupiter” and the “119.” His kids loved what they saw and had a great time. At the gift shop, Belnap told them they could choose one memento each to commemorate their visit. Of all the things that were there, his daughter chose a barn owl, appropriately naming her “Jupiter” after one of the trains.
“Ever since then the owl has been special to her,” Belnap recalls. “She would take it in the car, she would sleep with her owl, she would go play with it at the park. It's very endearing for a five year old to have something so personal to her.”
Belnap has been carrying Jupiter with him in his backpack. When the opportunity presents itself, he pulls out the stuffed animal and snaps a photo. Whether Jupiter is sitting on the bed in his room, held up in front of U.S. Monuments, or passing through a security screening, the pictures have not failed to bring a smile to his daughter’s face.
“I’ll snap a picture with the owl and I’ll send it to her to prove that Jupiter’s safe with me, and that I’m okay as well.”
She usually replies back within a day, saying "Daddy, I saw Jupiter!" Belnap likes to follow this up with a 10- or 20-minute phone call about what he’s been doing, reemphasizing that he’s okay and asking about her day as well.
“It's something that I do to just let my daughter know that I am thinking about her, and to let her know that she is still involved in my life and the things that we are doing out here. Jupiter's the special way that we make that connection,” said Belnap.
Deployed as a Public Affairs Officer, Belnap is constantly busy moving from one place to the next; sitting in meetings and briefings, or conducting and participating in interviews with Soldiers and the media, etc.
“There's a lot going on that occupies everybody's time, and we can really get ‘tunnel vision,’ if you will, concentrating on the mission,” observed Belnap. “When I reach into my backpack to pull out a laptop or notebook or my phone to take pictures, my hand will brush against Jupiter, or I'll pull the owl out of my bag to place it on the desk. It’s a special reminder that my family is there, and that I am doing this for them.”
Belnap added that it makes him want to do his job better–because he has a daughter and a son at home who are relying on him, and who want to know that he’s doing okay.
Task Force Utah has been notified that they will be heading back to Utah soon. Until then, Belnap will continue his efforts to connect with his daughter through a very special stuffed owl named Jupiter.