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  1. April 5, 2010 6:06 am

    I thought you might be interested in my “story” —

    Until about a year ago, I thought I was educated about military families. They volunteered for that life. They chose to fight. I was touched watching movies depicting their struggles and filled with admiration watching them walk through an airport. I thought I knew.

    Until about a year ago, I didn’t think about the actual lives of those families. The effects of deployments never entered my mind. Yes, I’d shed tears watching newscasts of soldiers leaving -scenes of a room full of spouses hugging and children clinging, everyone crying. It tugged at my heart and I ranted about the evil of war. But once out of my sight, it was forgotten. I thought I knew.

    Then a dear Navy reservist friend of my daughter was deployed, leaving behind his young children. I was touched. I was moved by his wrenching separation from his children, which left them distraught, confused, saddened, crying and angry -not wanting to let go. I empathized but couldn’t understand how truly heartbreaking it must have been for him to stand strong and leave to do a job he’s so prepared to do.

    I cried with my daughter. For the first time, the reality of a deployment gripped me. I was involved.

    I knew they would stay connected and write to each other. But, now that I knew someone who was “left behind,” my mind moved to others left behind, the ones without the ability to stay as connected: his children.

    I spent sleepless nights thinking of ways to help him stay in touch with his children in a way that would engage them. After searching online and finding nothing for deployed parents to easily communicate with their young children, I realized I’d have to do it myself.

    So I designed postcards — easy for him to send to his children. With drawings to color and other activities to complete — fun for them to do and send back to him. I envisioned them excitingly receiving the cards, holding them close, knowing they were touched by their father’s hands. I imagined them coloring and thinking, with every stroke of crayon, they were writing their own mail, all by themselves.

    They stayed connected. He asked for more cards to share with other parents in his unit and this small request made me think of others who need the same kind of connection.

    But how would I reach them? I didn’t have a clue. This was all new and alien to me, yet I was driven to seek out other parents and children feeling the pain of separation.

    I visited a recruiting office, VA groups, posted notices, but I still didn’t know how to reach the children. By this time I was on a mission to do so. At a nearby Armory, home to deployed National Guard troops, I met soldiers who distributed the postcards to some families and I learned about Family Assistance and Readiness Groups. I became familiar with military jargon and spent hours online learning about and linking up with organizations that support military families. All of this an education. A new world.

    But I had no idea that a military mom and her 6 year old daughter were about to greatly influence me.

    I first “met” Melissa Seligman, co-founder of and author of the book “The Day After He Left for Iraq” after reading her op-ed piece in the NY Times. The moment I contacted her, my life was never the same. She opened up the world of military wife and mother to me as she does to others through her blog and her book. She became the biggest booster of what I named my “Troops In Touch” project and has become a treasured friend.

    She urged me on and helped me understand how my work, especially as a non-military person, impacts those it touches, particularly the children. But it was her child who brought my journey and my education, full circle.

    Melissa shared with me the pain and struggles of her young daughter who not only loved the postcards, but began to use them as a way to express her anger and sadness of having her father removed from her for the fifth time. Melissa scanned her daughter’s drawings and sent them to me so I could see how what I drew was transformed into a means to help her hurting child. By her own drawn tears and “I miss you” in a child’s writing. Seeing her story come to life past the printed drawings broke my heart.

    We assume these children miss their parents. But seeing it, and knowing that my small gesture helped her express it made me more deeply committed than I could ever have been

    It took a deployment coming to my door before I took action. At first, I was embarrassed by my lack of interest and knowledge, but now, I feel educated. Now, I feel connected; part of a community where service prevails. Even if my service involves no uniform.

    I’ve learned a little bit about a way of life I knew nothing about before. I’ve learned that patriotism doesn’t always involve those who “chose this.” It isn’t about a volunteer military. It’s just about a volunteer heart. Most importantly, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the sacrifices of very young children, who, I believe, are often overlooked.

    My family friend is home now, and I hope the need for the work that he and his children inspired will be short-lived, but its impact will be everlasting. What began as a simple project to help him has evolved into me being forever changed. And it is a change I’m proud to show.

    For me, it started with a postcard. A small thing. But perhaps that is all anyone needs. Something small. After all, the smallest things often reap big rewards.

    That reward came in a note I received from Melissa’s daughter: “Thank you for the postcards to send my daddy. I think they are perfect because I don’t have to write very much words and daddy sends them to me. I feel happy about you because you send the most good postcards. Love, Amelia.”

    I feel happy about you too Amelia. I keep your note above my computer where I see it all day to remind me that you are the reason I am doing it. And why I think we should all do something. Even if that something feels so very small.

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