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Paynesville Press - November 19, 2003

Military support group formed for Paynesville

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

She lives in constant fear that her son may not come home from Afghanistan. That he will be injured or harmed mentally in some irreparable way.

Or she watches the news, in a vain attempt to fill the gaps between her intermittent contacts with her son, stationed in Iraq.

Soldiers are not the only ones who face hardships during war. Life can be difficult when someone you love is serving in the military, so some local families have formed a support group to help themselves cope.

Meeting once a month, the support group gives family members - including parents, grandparents, spouses, and siblings - as well as friends and loved ones a forum for talking about their fears and concerns with others who also have a loved one in the military.

Organized by Barb Jones, who began to see the need for a community support group after her son, Philip, was deployed to the Middle East with his Army Reserve unit, last week's meeting included seven parents and one sister of Paynesville area soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Some have loved ones who are already in the Middle East, and some are waiting for a phone call to inform them that their loved one will be deployed.

The mission of the support group is simple, according to Jones. "It's just to give folks a place to sound off and have someone give you a hug and say, 'I know how you feel,' " she said. Jones's ultimate hope is that eventually the members of the group will become really good friends.

"It's a good idea. We're all gong through the same thing," said Mary Millner, who feels that she and her husband Don need the support.

Don was the only man present at last week's meeting, a fact that Jones noted. She was very glad Don was there, and in the future, she hopes to see more fathers at the meeting, because men also hurt when their children are in harm's way. Very often, though, men aren't encouraged to share such feelings, she said.

Don agreed that men and women talk differently but letting go of a child is difficult for both sexes. He compared his feelings about his son's deployment to a cumulative wear-down where he has good days and bad days. "This whole business is a slow and hard pull, and it doesn't get any easier," he said. Men need to talk about their concerns as much as women do, he believes.

Dotzie Kohnen - whose son, Jeremy Bentler-Kohnen, is a Marine who recently returned from Iraq - is grateful for the support because Jeremy was recently notified that he was going back to Iraq in March. Her daughter, Alicia Kohnen, is a member of the Army Reserves and faces the prospect of joining her unit in the Middle East as soon as she graduates from PAHS next spring.

Alicia went to last week's meeting and was the only sibling present. She went because she is close to her brother and because her mother encouraged her to attend. After attending the meeting, Alicia decided to do something to support troops who may not have families and recruited help from a teacher to form a group of classmates to put together and mail care packages to troops.

"This is important. Just because we don't hear about it so much on TV doesn't mean it's over," Alicia said. "We still need to support the troops."

Jones believes a show of support for the troops will help the troops, as well as their families, so the group is planning a prayer wall for all area military members. The wall will include pictures of military members and prayer cards that visitors can take home. The cards will have information about each service member, including their addresses, so visitors can send cards or care packages or include the service member in their prayers.

"As a mother, I know that nothing warms a heart more than hearing someone say, 'I'm praying for your loved one.' You need that support," said Jones.

Jones hopes that more family members will attend the next meeting of the military support group, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 8, at the Paynesville Area Center. She believes that word-of-mouth will help boost the groups' numbers, and she is positive that more people in the area could use the support.

The group will meet on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Paynesville Area Center. Family members and loved ones of military personnel, either on active or reserve duty, are welcome. (Siblings are welcome, but Jones hopes that parents of young children can make arrangements for their care.)

For more information about the group, call Jones at 320-276-8229.

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