Soldiers' Families Try To Find Peace Of Mind At Home

In Desert Comfort, Relatives' Objective Is Mutual Support

February 10, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

It's all quiet on Virginia Jackson's home front.

Too quiet, she says.

The Havre de Grace woman's brother, stepbrother, brother-in-law and husband have been sent to duty in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq.

For Jackson and her three children, it's a struggle to get through a day without worrying about the safety of their relatives.

"The nights are a little lonely at home," Jackson said. "For the kids, it's hard."

But Jackson and her family now have Desert Comfort to turn to ease the stress. The support group was formed by Harford residents for people with friends and relatives serving in the Persian Gulf.

Jackson, whose husband, Douglas, is a sergeant in the Army, took her children to Desert Comfort's third meeting on Feb. 2, which about 75 people attended -- nearly double the number at the group's first meeting two weeks earlier.

Jackson and others with loved ones serving in Operation Desert Storm said it's heartening to know they can turn to people who empathize with their fears as the war escalates and a ground battle seems likely.

"It's a group of people who havesomething in common," said Raymond E. Foote, whose son, Raymond Jr.,is stationed about 50 miles from the Kuwaiti border.

"This group knows how you feel," said Foote, of Street. "They're there."

Brenda Miller, an Abingdon native who lives in Baltimore County, said she joined Desert Comfort to help others, which in turn helps herself cope.

Miller's brother, Ross, is stationed on the front line in the Persian Gulf.

"If I try to help other people, it helps me," said Miller, of Reisterstown. "It helps me understand I'm not by myself."

Desert Comfort formed about one month ago when John E. Monk of Street got a letter from his son, John T., an army corporal stationed in Saudi Arabia.

In the letter, the soldier asked his father to tell Sharon Rappold of White Hall that one of her sons is stationed in his battalion and that he is doing fine.

When Monk and Rappold talked,they decided a support group for relatives of those stationed in thegulf was needed.

They said Desert Comfort is designed to raise money for family bills, find a baby sitter or to provide an understanding shoulder to lean on.

"We want everyone to know we're here to help," Rappold said. "We plan to meet every week until we're not neededanymore."

Rappold said the group's organizers also plan to help soldiers, particularly reservists, to readjust to civilian life when the war is over.

Also the group wants to organize a homecoming party to honor local troops when they return, she said.

Desert Comfortis one of several area support groups for military families that have formed since the Persian Gulf crisis started.

At Aberdeen Proving Ground, about 300 people have joined the eight new support groups, said Elizabeth K. Bowman, chief of APG's Community Service Center.

APG also has individual counseling programs for relatives of soldiers stationed in the gulf, Bowman said.

A support group for studentsat Aberdeen High School also has formed, Bowman noted. That group has about 30 members.

One major concern among the people attending Desert Comfort's Feb. 2 meeting is mail service for the U.S. troops stationed in the gulf.

When Monk asked how many people at the meeting got letters during the week, only about a dozen raised their hands.

Foote and his wife, Mary Lou, were among the lucky ones. They gota letter from their son on Jan. 27 -- more than three weeks after it was written.

Monk noted that newspapers have reported that much of the mail is sitting on airport runways in Saudi Arabia. But he urged the group to keep writing to the troops because they need to hear from home.

Other people expressed anger at protesters voicing opposition to the war.

"If they confront you," Rappold told the group,"just look them in the eye and say: 'God bless you. You live in America.' "

One man added: "And that's what the troops are fighting for."

During the meeting, Monk led the group in a prayer for soldiers killed in action and those taken as prisoners.

He asked the audience if they had friends or relatives who had been killed or injured in the war, but none had.

"We made it through another week of war and we have not been touched," Monk said.

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