War support groups help loved ones cope


February 06, 1991|By Noam Neusner | Noam Neusner,Special to The Sun

Forest Hill - Reading from a piece of tattered notebook paper, Stacey Rappold fought back tears.

"Loving a Marine has unfound fears,

Crying 'til there are no more tears,

And hating the world, yourself, and the war

'Cause it took the boy you adore."

Stacey's husband, Cpl. William Rappold III, copied the poem from another Marine while stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Her rendition of it elicited tears from many at the second meeting of Desert Comfort, a Harford County-based support group for families and friends of those stationed in the Persian Gulf.

"We're helping each other as well as the troops," said Ms. Rappold after the reading.

Support groups like Desert Comfort have sprung up across Maryland since America sent troops to the gulf. Some are for the parents of soldiers. Others help children understand the trauma of war. Still others are for those who oppose a war their relatives are fighting overseas.

But whatever their differences, these groups share a common goal: helping people cope with the loneliness, fear, and frustration that come with separation from loved ones.

"We're dealing with apprehension and fear," said Jesse Harris, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work and a former U.S. Army colonel. "Even more than Vietnam, we are able to see in real time what is happening. That increases family anxiety . . . and makes these groups even more important."

But these support groups are more than just a forum for grief. During last Saturday's meeting of Desert Comfort, information on how to help the troops was swapped like recipes at a pot luck dinner.

Jennifer Rogers said she'd found out what troops really need: eye drops, skin care lotion, and baby powder. And Jennie Phillips said she'd made helpful connections at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds that could speed delivery of mail to the gulf.

Sharon Rappold, Stacey's mother-in-law and one of the organizers of Desert Comfort, says getting things done for others helps her deal with her own problems. At the meeting, she kept the anxiety level down by shooing group members away from news broadcasts and toward the refreshment table.

"You go crazy if you sit around watching television," warned the mother of two Marines in the gulf.

Desert Comfort got off the ground by chance. Several Marines from Harford County were in the same battalion and one of the soldiers, Cpl. John T. Monk, asked his father to relay news to Mrs. Rappold that her son was fine. Finding other parents in the same boat inspired Mrs. Rappold and John E. Monk to form Desert Comfort, now over 50 strong.

Across Maryland, families and friends of soldiers are finding one another.

Eunice Clark, a single mother from Anne Arundel County with two sons in the gulf, is trying to form a group for single parents. Those who don't have a spouse to "share the anxiety" bear the unique burden of being alone with their fears, she said.

Another group affected by the war, young children, often do not understand what is happening and need counseling. Some fear an attack on the United States. Others think no one else is as afraid as they are.

"It's the unknown that scares them," said Cathe Chiomento, who coordinates a support group for children, at Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County.

St. Mary's County has sent so many of its sons and daughters to war that the community is feeling the pinch: Gone, for instance, are the little league coaches. The gap left behind has created an urgent need for many residents to express themselves.

"What we're hoping to do is get people to start organizing groups on a grass-roots level," said Ms. Chiomento. "This is going to affect many more people than military personnel and families."

Support groups

Following is a list of Maryland support groups for those with friends or relatives in the Persian Gulf.

Anne Arundel County

Desert Storm Support Group meets Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. in Stratton Hall at the Navy Family Service Center in Annapolis. Open to families and friends. For details, call Carol Fritz or Leo Weigant at (301) 267-2641.

Fort Meade offers support for military families through Army Community Services. For details, call Marci Emerson at (301) 677-3418.

Eunice Clark is hoping to form a support group in Millersville for single parents with children overseas. For information, call her at 647-1737 or 987-2410.

Baltimore city

New Beginnings Family Center meets Wednesdays at 6 p.m., at 1035 N. Calvert St. For details, call Leslie Gardner at 628-7272.

The Central Maryland Red Cross will offer free support counseling for all military families, beginning Feb. 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the chapter headquarters at 4700 Mount Hope Drive in the Seton Business Park of Northwest Baltimore. Support groups will be available for children 6 to 11, adolescents and adults. Group size will be limited to 15, but no limit has been placed on the number of groups that may be formed. For information, call 764-4627.

Baltimore County

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