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Local groups, volunteers, ahead of national initiative when it comes to support for military families

By Staff | Apr 16, 2011

Many military families have reached out to each other, along with organizations to help them in their time of need while their loved ones are deployed.
The national initiative Joining Forces was launched this week by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to “mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.”
The ongoing initiative will highlight issues such as employment, education and wellness due to its importance to military families.
Andrea Kellner, who currently lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina, said Michelle Obama visited the base close to where she lives and spoke in front of about 3,000 people about the initiative.
Her husband, Sgt. Christopher Kellner has served two tours in Iraq and spent 86 days in Haiti two days after the earthquake struck the area. He was deployed in late March to Afghanistan and is expected to return home the first week of October.
Kellner said after receiving an invitation she decided against going.
“I think she has the wrong idea of military life,” she said. “She doesn’t understand because she has never been through it.”
Kellner said it was weird timing for her to come speak to military families because they were very close to not receiving their paycheck on the 15th, which she relies heavily on.
“She thinks the military is asking for education, mental health and employment,” she said, adding that in her town they already have all those things in front of them. “In my eyes I think time can be spent somewhere else.”
Kellner said she would rather see society educated about military based families because most people do not understand the stress and pressure they are faced with on a daily basis.
Mary Zizzamia, Andrea’s mother, said her son-in-law’s tour to Afghanistan is a little more unsettling to the family due to the hostile environment that he is in.
She said she talks to her daughter every day to make sure she is OK, along with checking up on her two small grandchildren.
“We pray every day that he is safe and comes back,” she said. “Every day is a struggle.”
Kellner said her 10-year-old and 4-year-old sleep with a picture of their father, which helps them stay connected. The children also have the chance to talk to their father every Sunday and Kellner talks to her husband about every three days.
Zizzamia is currently seeking donations from the patrons at the Clubhouse Grille and Bar, so they can send boxes to her son-in-law’s U.S. Marine Corp unhit in Afghanistan. The boxes will be sent to 24 Marines.
The Clubhouse Grille and Bar General Manager Joey Rowing said he wanted to become involved in the project because his son, who is a Marine, is currently deployed and he knows that when everyone receives a care box it brings the morale up for everyone.
“I always got boxes,” he said about his experience in the military, “so I could see the hurt in my battle buddies’ faces when I was the only one to get a box.”
Rowing said they are seeking donations of candy that will not melt, cookies, snacks like cookies and pretzels, canned meat, Beef Jerky, Slim Jim’s, socks, foot powder, baby wipes, deodorant, tooth paste, lip balm, disposable razors, gum and Life Savers, energy shots that do not need refrigeration, along with stuff to keep them occupied like magazines and cross word puzzles. Bubbles, UNO cards and pictures of trees, bushes, grass and the ocean are also appreciated, so they can take their mind off of where they are for a few minutes.
“I am hoping to have a decent shipment of six boxes by April 24,” Zizzamia said, adding that she will continue to send five or six boxes out at a time.
The last shipment will go out on Aug. 10.
She said the boxes provide a boost to their spirits, while making them feel that they are doing something for a purpose.
“I think it is really cool because it shows the support that most military don’t get to see,” Kellner said. “Without people like them they wouldn’t have what they need … it shows that many people do care.”
Those who wish to donate items can drop them off at The Clubhouse Grille and Bar located at 2114 Santa Barbara Blvd. For information call 239-541-8422. The bar is open from 11 a.m. until midnight Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Sunday.
Kim Gaide, Military Support coordinator of Lee Memorial Health System said they have been doing their own military family initiative in Lee County since 2003.
“As our service personnel have been away, we have included members of the community to assist as needed,” she said. “Since I am a military family, I look at things a lot differently than those who do not have someone in the service or a veteran at home. We have been helping our own as they need help.”
Gaide said if she hears about a need, she sends out that need through her email distribution list that then is sent on to other distribution lists to make sure that family is taken care of.
The American Red Cross Lee County Chapter Armed Forces also offers services to active duty and retired service members.
Armed Forces Coordinator Jeremy Gentile said one of the main services they provide is emergency communication messages. He said the families contact them when they need to send a message to a loved one who is in the military.
“It is usually because of a serious illness, death or on the brighter side of things … birth,” Gentile said. “We verify that there is indeed an emergency with the hospital or funeral director and pass that message to the service member command.”
The service is done with 17 volunteers in addition to Gentile 24 hours a day seven days a week.
They are also the facilitator for financial cases for active duty and retired service members through the Armed Forces program. Gentile said they go through the military aid society to find financial support within the different departments of defense.
The program also reaches out to veterans and their families through a family support group. The group has anywhere from 17 to 31 people attend on the second Thursday of every month. He said they break down into groups, so they can talk with each other and share stories.
“It has been fabulous,” Gentile said.
There are many Cape Coral military families that have reached out to the various organizations to help when their loved ones were deployed.
Nancy Travis said her son, Nathan Henning, 27, was deployed to Iraq in 2007 where he spent 15 months in the Army. He arrived home at the end of January in 2010 and is currently going to school using his GI benefits to become a police officer to continue to protect individuals.
Since Lee Memorial Health System provided so much support for her when her son was deployed, she now helps other families who are going through what she went through.
“Sometimes all they need is a hug,” Travis said about military family members.