My submission to the Joining Forces Community Challenge.

My submission to the Joining Forces Community Challenge.

Community Challenge: Individuals can make a difference

I am an Army “brat,” an Army aunt, and an Army mom – HOOAH!   While I am a military family member, I also experience great joy in being able to support and encourage others.

I am very proud of my local community, church, and DAR chapter.  They have allowed me to encourage and support our military and their families in various ways.  I am very thankful that I seem to be a point of contact to assist with each of these groups.

I am active in the Military Family Support Center, in Salem Virginia  We have many National Guard and Reserve soldiers in the area.  It is amazing how many military families there are here, but you would never know it.  There is no base/post here that really brings the military to the forefront of people’s minds.  The MFSC provides needed goods and services to families of deployed troops, as well as emotional encouragement and support.  I volunteer with this organization.  My husband and I walked in the local Veteran’s Day parade. I stood, with ROTC students, in the rain and cold to collect donations in front of a Walmart for “Fill the Humvee” which helped stocked the pantry at the MFSC.  I recently worked the will call table and was the unofficial photographer at the Salem Red Sox minor league baseball game to honor our military.  There was a swearing in ceremony as part of the opening ceremonies.  I share the information for the MFSC with anyone I meet who tells me they have, or know of, someone deployed.  Getting the word out is half the battle. Grin

I am a member of the Botetourt County Chapter of the DAR.  When my son deployed to Afghanistan, in December, we started “Support A Squad”.  My son is on a Combat Outpost and has very little access to supplies.  I contacted Adopt A Platoon and the USO to find out what they send in care packages.  These lists, along with what the Family Readiness Group team leader suggested, allowed me to put together a list of items that we could be sending overseas.  I send a box a week to my son with enough contents in it for ten soldiers.  A typical box may contain toiletry items, snacks, movies, magazines, and special requests that my son tells me about (oh yeah and socks!)   Since the platoon finally settled into one location, I have mailed 35 boxes for the squad.  They are not home yet, so the shipments continue.  It came to my attention that redeploying married soldiers walk into a welcoming, well stocked home.   Approximately 400 single soldiers will be redeploying, later this year, and walking into a bare barracks room.  I approached the DAR and they are researching providing twin bed sheet sets for these soldiers.  As a parent of one of these single soldiers, I support this effort.  Every little bit helps.

The pastor of our church, Rainbow Forest Baptist Church, in Troutville, Virginia, asked me to head up a Military Family support group for the church.  We have a number of military families who attend.  We currently have five servicemen deployed.     We named the group  .  I have 27 email addresses on my list.  I try to stay abreast of any good news, information, freebies, medical articles, legislation, local events, etc. that may be of interest or benefit to the members of the group.  I purchased a DVD course called “Stress & Trauma with a Military Application”, because I want to be informed on what my son may experience.  RFBC allowed me to use a room, and promote the course, free, to the public and show it once a week for ten weeks.  The purpose was to give great information to military families, and to let area pastors/counselors know how they might better serve those with military specific issues.  The congregation recently took up a collection to send care packages to our five deployed soldiers.  The response was tremendous.  I was able to fill two boxes per service member and distribute them to the families to be mailed overseas.  Some donations even came in after the boxes were delivered, so I have decided to do another collection to send packages around Christmas time, since we will have some young men still deployed at that time.

As of this writing, I have one friend active in the Patriot Guard Riders and another who has recently attended a funeral where 160 Patriot Guard Riders attended.  I am thankful this group exists and my husband and I have just joined, as there is a branch here in our county.  A dear friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident, almost 30 years ago, and I have not been on the back of a motorcycle since.  I told my husband I would conquer that fear because it is an honor to be a member of this group and ride with them.

Each military post that my son has been on has a FaceBook page.  I’m not sure if all posts/bases have them or I have just been blessed that he was assigned to posts with active FaceBook pages.  In the beginning of this “adventure” as we refer to it – grin, while he was going through basic training and schooling, there were many mothers and spouses really struggling with the fact that their soldier was away from them.  Now that some of those soldiers are deployed, the fear factor has been added.   I will admit, I joined the post pages to gain information and support for myself, after all, my son was there and I was dealing with the lack of information and missing him, and now the deployment too.  However, I have always had a heart to help lift the spirits of others, so I was able to post encouraging comments for the other people on the page.  I continue to visit and post on the pages, even though my son is no longer at those posts.  I have now been through it and can speak with the voice of experience to help ease the minds of those just starting this adventure.  Some of them have friend requested me and we keep in touch.  I often am able to offer encouragement.  You see, I have learned that there is absolutely nothing I can do about whatever situation my son may be going through.  I have come to accept the fact that things change at a moment’s notice and “hurry up and wait” is the name of the game.  Typically, no news is good news and stressing about things you have no control over doesn’t do anyone any good.  I won’t say it’s easy and I do have my moments of weakness, but I have learned that I can’t dwell on the “what if’s.”  If I let my mind go there, I would go nuts.  We think of our soldier constantly, in the back of our minds, but we try not to “think” about him being in harm’s way.  We pray without ceasing and trust that God’s got this.  It is this belief that allows us to have a relative peace about the whole situation and I am blessed that I can offer some peace to others in the same situation.

I believe the military family serves right alongside their service member and being a military family member – I get it.  It is my great pleasure to be able to serve alongside other family members and organizations to support and encourage our military families.

As to the things I participate in being transferrable to other communities…

I’m sure the Military Family Support Center would like nothing better than to see other organizations like them to spring up in every town.   The needs of families with deployed service members can become overwhelming, at times, and it is nice to know that there is an organization that can help with pretty much anything that comes up.

The military ministry at a church is not difficult to get started, someone just needs to get the idea, take the ball and run with it.

Sending care packages to our deployed troops is another easy thing to do, someone just needs to take the lead on it.  This gets the community involved in understanding the needs of the deployed troops, and in some cases highlights the sparse living conditions.  It also helps take the burden of purchasing supplies and shipping costs off the families.  It costs $12.95 to ship a large flat rate APO box.  By the time my son’s deployment is over, at a box a week, we will have spent over $1,000 filling and shipping boxes, that’s just us, that doesn’t include the donations we have received from the DAR and our church.  Deployment isn’t cheap.

Supporting and encouraging military family members can be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone. You do not need to be part of an organization, you do not have to start a program, you do not have to do it in a big way.  Let me tell you that my heart is filled with pride for our country, my dad, my son, my nephew, all who have served, currently serve & will serve.  Goodness, I tear up at the Star Spangled Banner and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA gets me every time.   I wear my Proud Army Mom t-shirt with pride and my Red Friday t-shirt every Friday.  Let me tell you what brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart… when some random stranger stops and either asks me about my soldier, or even just leans in and says “Thank You, and tell your son thank you for us too”.  As a military family member, this is a wonderful thing to hear, it lets you know that – hey, people do understand, people do care. 

So as a citizen trying to support and encourage military families – take that minute to say thank you,  if you live near a military family get to know them – if it is a new military family be a kind ear to listen, sometimes people just have to vent and having someone to talk to can help.   Be aware.  Showing support to our military and their families is not difficult – if I may make use a slogan to make my point… “Just do it”. HOOAH!

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