by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read
First Liberty was at The American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina this week. We presented the 2023 Onderdonk Religious Liberty Award to Shields of Strength, a faith-based company that graciously provides replica dog tags with inspirational Bible verses to active-duty service members, veterans, first responders and their families.
Each year, First Liberty bestows this award to one exceptional individual or group for their efforts to defend religious liberty. The honoree receives a custom Henry Repeating Arms Military Service Tribute Edition .22 caliber commemorative rifle, specially engraved for the award. The rifle is donated by Henry Repeating Arms, a strong supporter of our nation’s military service members and veterans.
The Award was introduced in 2015 and is named after Philip B. Onderdonk Jr., long-time National Judge Advocate of The American Legion. Past honorees include Coach Joe Kennedy (2022), the Northeast POW/MIA Network (2021), Christopher DiPompeo (2019), President Donald J. Trump (2018) and Senator Ted Cruz (2017).
Kenny and Tammie Vaughan founded Shields of Strength more than 20 years ago. To date, they have produced millions of dog tags, and given many of them away for free to service members and people in law enforcement.
Kenny got the idea after Tammie wrote a Bible verse on his waterski handle before a professional ski jumping competition in 1996. The verse gave him the courage to win, so he began making these dog tags hoping to encourage others who may be facing fear.
In late 2001, U.S. Army Colonel David Dodd was in command of the 86th Signal Battalion as he and his troops prepared for deployment to Afghanistan for the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. At that time, Col. Dodd inquired about buying Shields of Strength in bulk to take them overseas. Kenny and Tammie graciously gave Colonel Dodd 500 for his combat-ready troops.
During the Iraq War, they donated more than 50,000 pieces a month and even fulfilled a single request for 30,000 pieces. They have also given tags to well over 100,000 police officers across the country, approximately 10% of the nation’s law enforcement force.
Shields of Strength are much more than just pieces of metal on a chain for men and women of faith in our military. These Scripture-inscribed dog tags are a source of reassurance, a symbol of sacrifice and a tangible reminder of the strength gained through their faith.
As one veteran puts it:
“This tag is faith. It’s believing that you’re going to live—and that even if you die, you’ll be holding hands with God for eternity. That’s what it means to me, and every veteran I know feels the same way.”
First Liberty is fighting in federal court for Shields of Strength. A radical group filed a complaint against the company, which led to the Department of Defense instituting a discriminatory policy that’s preventing Shields from producing and distributing its dog tags.
Please join us in congratulating Shields of Strength for this well-deserved award. We, along with millions of Americans, thank them for their tireless efforts. They’ve done incredible work to support and help our military heroes find strength through faith.