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Quiet casualty of war: parents

PLANT CITYCoping mechanisms include the Internet and support groups.

By JAN WESNER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 31, 2007


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Despondent about her second son going to war, Jo Ann Ross sat down at her computer and hammered out an e-mail to the White House.

It wasn't fair that two of her sons were fighting in Iraq, she wrote. She asked if one of them could come home.

That was May 12. Her youngest son Austin, 22 years old and in the midst of a 15-month deployment, was told in July he could do just that. He declined.

Ross, of Plant City, said she wrote the e-mail because she felt helpless - and hopeless - after Austin joined his older brother Kris in Iraq.

Like the military spouses left behind, moms and dads often struggle with anger, resentment and paralyzing fear. Some say they turn to alcohol or sedatives to help them cope.

Spouses are likely to have friends going through the same thing.

Parents, though, are often on their own.

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa once had a support group for parents, but it did not attract enough participants, said Master Sgt. John Close, the base's family readiness program manager.

Instead, military parents find their own shoulders to lean on, be it in Internet chat rooms or informal support groups.

The Tampa Area Marine Parents Association launched four years ago when seven Marine moms met for coffee. The group now numbers 150, according to leader Cyd Deathe. They meet monthly at Semper Pi pizza on Parsons Avenue in Brandon.

Deathe said she felt isolated from friends who had no military affiliation, especially when her son went to Iraq.

"Although I can sit down and talk with them, it's not the same as someone who is walking in your shoes," Deathe said.

Her son was injured and will soon be medically discharged from the Marines.

Ross turned to groups like the Blue Star Mothers and started a blog, ArmyMomTimesThree.

The title r epresents her two sons in Iraq and her daughter-in-law, who has also been there.

She also sought therapy.

"I was in a body that was dead inside," Ross said of the time right after her sons left. "I was so scared. I was ruining my marriage. I had very few friends left.

"I had become someone no one would want to be around."

She often ends her blog posts and e-mails with the same simple sentiment: "I think I'm going to throw up."

A few weeks ago, Ross hit the keyboard again.

This time, she was appalled that the generators at her son's base weren't working.

As a result, there was no air conditioning. Austin and other soldiers slept outside, where it was not only uncomfortable but also offered less protection from enemy fire.

Ross sent about 150 messages to military officials, private contractors, congressmen and anyone else she thought might help. The generators were fixed.

Ross said Austin didn't mind her intervention, and even wrote on his MySpace page that anyone who messes with him had better watch out because "my mom will send an e-mail."

It may have been a coincidence, but Ross likes to think that she somehow did something to help keep her son safe, even though he's 7,000 miles away.

Jan Wesner can be reached at 661-2439 or jwesner@sptimes.com Read her blog about military life at blogs.tampabay.com/standingby.


Lifelinesfor parents

Jo Ann Ross wants to start a local chapter of the Blue Star Mothers.

Contact her at armymomtimesthree@yahoo.com

You can read her blog at www.armymomtimesthree.blogspot.com.

[Last modified August 30, 2007, 22:22:08]


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