Support group forming for military families

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 3, 2003

A boy no more, Benjamin Lewis, at 20, is a Marine. Still, his mother, Pam McNeil of Natchez, wants to hug him and protect him. Knowing he is in Kuwait and could move closer to the Iraqi border within weeks, she fears for his safety. She prays for him. And she reaches out for comfort from others who share her distress.

&uot;It’s very scary not knowing where he is, what he’s doing and what the situation is,&uot; McNeil said, as she shared the thoughts of a parent who is learning to cope with having a military son.

McNeil is lucky. Friend Sharon Goodrich, retired as a director of National Cemeteries, whose association with the military way of life goes back to her father, who was in the U.S. Navy, to her husband, John Goodrich, retired from the U.S. Army and a son, who, like McNeil’s son, faced combat as a U.S. Marine, not in the Middle East but in Somalia.

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&uot;You’re so used to watching over them and taking care of them,&uot; McNeil said. &uot;Becoming a Marine has strengthened his Christian faith so much. He knows he has someone a lot stronger than I am on his side.&uot;

McNeil and Goodrich are organizing a support group for families who have loved ones in the military service. It is their way of building camaraderie among those families and finding ways they all can support one another emotionally and intellectually.

The first meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday at Stratton Chapel of First Presbyterian Church. All area families with relatives or friends in the military are welcome and urged to come, Goodrich said.

Goodrich is familiar with the kind of support families on a military base can expect.

In a community such as Natchez, isolated from a base, spouses, parents and close friends often do not know where to turn.

&uot;We may be able to answer questions about making contact with the loved ones, what you can put into a box to send to them and some resources they may not know about,&uot; she said.

McNeil said knowing there is someone she can call who will understand how she feels is important to her.

Goodrich recalls vividly when her son, Donnie, left Camp Pendleton in California for what seemed to be a routine deployment. &uot;Then when they got to Singapore, they were diverted to Somalia. He was in the artillery and a part of several skirmishes.&uot;

Her son returned from Somalia with a new understanding of what is normal in the world, Goodrich said. &uot;We have no idea in the U.S. about war. We’ve not had a war on our soil since the Civil War.&uot;

Goodrich wants the support group to provide another important focus &045; that of supporting not only each other but the military men and women in general.

&uot;These young men and women stand between us and the possibility of having a war in our country,&uot; she said.

&uot;During Vietnam, the men were not supported. These guys today need to know their home front is solid. Supporting them is not about politics and any personal agenda.&uot;

McNeil said knowing her son has been trained well has been a comfort to her. And if she forgets how prepared he is for the job, he is quick to tell her &045; he is a Marine.

&uot;You just have to believe they have the training to get them through,&uot; she said. &uot;We always hope for a peaceful solution. We pray for the best and prepare for the worst.&uot;

Joan Gandy is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at