America Supports You: 'Family' Helps Those on Homefront
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 8, 2006 As the mother of a Marine on his first deployment in 2003, Donna Clemons didn't know where to turn for support. She didn't know anyone else with family members in the military who would understand what she was going through, she said.
When Clemons' son went on a second deployment in 2004, she found an online support group for military family members and through that group learned about a luncheon for Marine mothers in Tennessee, her home state. Clemons went to the luncheon and met other parents of Marines. Together, they decided to form a group to share experiences and support during their hard times.
"We decided we needed support not only for moms, but for entire families," the Gallatin, Tenn., resident said in an interview.
Clemons and the other Marine mothers founded Tennessee Marine Family, a group dedicated to supporting the family members of Marines and other servicemembers. The group started small, but as more people joined they decided to become a nonprofit organization. It now has more than 600 members from all over the United States and Canada, with family members in every branch of service, Clemons said.
"We don't exclude anybody," she said.
The monthly luncheons Tennessee Marine Family hosts for its members can draw anywhere from 30 to 125 people, and sometimes include speakers, Clemons said. Mostly, though, the lunches are a chance for the family members to be reminded that they are not alone while their loved ones are deployed, she said.
"It's just a way for parents and family members to connect," she said. "A lot of the family members are really silent members until their child deploys, and then it's like, panic. I feel that I've been blessed with that in one sense - that I can be of so much support to others."
In addition to the luncheons, the members of Tennessee Marine Family conduct package drives four times a year, provide financial assistance to the families of wounded Marines, hold fundraisers, and work with other nonprofit organizations providing help to veterans, Clemons said.
"It keeps all of us very busy, very focused, and doesn't give us time to sit home and have that 'pity party,'" she said. "It's a way for all of us to be of service to other people."
Tennessee Marine Family has 17 "Gold Star" families - those that have lost loved ones in military service - in its ranks, Clemons said. For these families, she said, the most important thing the group can do is remember their loved ones and the sacrifices they made.
"The most painful thing for them is that people will forget, as time goes on," she said. "We do what we can do to make sure that those young men are remembered."
At every luncheon, the group has a table dedicated to the fallen servicemembers, and last September they hosted a banquet with the theme "Never Forgotten," Clemons said.
Clemons, whose son is on his third tour to Iraq and just re-enlisted, said she sees a busy future for Tennessee Marine Family, as servicemembers continue to deploy. The group has been reaching out to families across the country, encouraging them to form similar groups, she said.
Groups like the Tennessee Marine Family will always be important, Clemons said, because they give military families a link to the only people who truly understand their experiences.
"When you can say something to somebody about your Marine, and they're just as excited as you because they have a son that's a Marine, it's just so different than the 'average joe,'" she said. "Just knowing that other people understand your highs and your lows means more than anything that we can have as military parents and family members."