Thursday, February 28, 2002

Navy mom beckons other parents


Support group sought for military families

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Deborah Eckert is a mother; she would worry about her 27-year-old son even if he were living on the other side of town.

        In this case, though, he is on the other side of the world. On a guided-missile cruiser, heading toward the Arabian Sea and a war on terrorism.

        “Sometimes, the worry just really wears me down,” said the Indian Hill woman, a social worker at Jewish Family Service in Blue Ash.

        And she knows that for nearly every one of the other hundreds of young men and women from the Tristate serving overseas — onboard ships, on the ground in Afghanistan, in the Middle East or Europe — there is a mother back home, hoping that the feelings of pride for what her child is doing will smother the fears she has for his or her safety.

        Knowing that, Mrs. Eckert wants to organize a local group of parents of active-duty military personnel — a group that could get together occasionally, talk about their children and the war on terrorism, and generally “help each other cope.”

        “I know I would like to have someone to talk to who is going through the same thing,” Mrs. Eckert said.

        Mrs. Eckert's son, Chad Adler, is a petty officer on board the USS Vicksburg, a guided-missile cruiser that is part of the naval battle group headed by the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.

        The Kennedy battle group recently left its home port near Jacksonville, Fla. for a six-month tour in the Arabian Sea, where it will take over for the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

        Her unmarried son has been in the U.S. Navy for more than three years, but this is his first deployment overseas.

        “Intellectually, I know he is a lot safer onboard a ship than he would be on the ground,” Mrs. Eckert said. “But he is my son. I worry.”

        Her son, on the other hand, “is all gung ho. He's not scared of anything. Me, I'm scared of everything.”

        During a recent training mission, a missile misfired and hit the water near the ship. When he told her, “he was laughing about it; I was just terrified,” Mrs. Eckert said. “I've told him, "You're an only son; I can get you out of this.' But he doesn't want out. He's loving it.”

        So far on the battle-group's cruise to the war zone, Mrs. Eckert and other parents and spouses of sailors have been able to communicate by e-mail with their loved ones, but they fear that will end or be severely limited when the ships reach their destination.

        Her son's girlfriend in Cincinnati hears from the sailor frequently as well.

        “But there's only so much he can say; he can't really say what they are doing or where they are,” Mrs. Eckert said. “It's almost like talking to somebody in code.”

        The Navy, along with all the other branches of the military, has a system of family support groups, but most are on or near naval bases and are geared toward the spouses and children — not parents.

        Some parents are lucky enough to have a network of support in their own communities.

        The son of Jenny McCauley of Wyoming is a lieutenant onboard the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier that was heavily involved in the air attacks on Afghanistan last fall.

        His ship is now in Hawaii, but while it was in the Arabian Sea Mrs. McCauley turned to three other sets of parents from Wyoming who had sons and daughters in the Navy.

        “We talked to each other constantly; we shared information; shared our feelings,” Mrs. McCauley said. “It was a lifesaver, particularly during the scariest times.”

        But not all parents of servicemen and -women have support that close by.

        “That is why I would like to start a group here,” Mrs. Eckert said. “I could be the facilitator, but it would help me just as much as it would anyone who joined.”

        Mrs. Eckert said she has talked about the idea with her employers at Jewish Family Service and was told a military parents group would be welcome to meet at the Blue Ash office.

        Parents interested in starting a support group, Mrs. Eckert said, should call her at her office at 469-1188, Ext. 103.

        “I'd just like to have a small group of friends to come together and support each other,” Mrs. Eckert said. “People who share the same feelings.”

       



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