America Supports You: Woman Lends Troops, Families an Ear
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6, 2005 Deployed troops and their families are used to receiving material support from various sources, but sometimes they really need something less tangible.
Army Staff Sgts. Rodolfo "Raven" Fuentes (front) and Ken Jenkins of the 44th Signal Battalion stationed at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, visit with children from the Parwan orphanage, near the base. The unit has adopted Parwan and is collecting clothing, medical and play items for the children. Photo by Cpl. Serge Batyrshin, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I think that a lot of times somebody just needs someone to listen for awhile and (to) know that they're not alone and not forgotten," said Alessandra Kellermann, president and founder of "Homefront Hugs," an organization started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Kellermann is well qualified to listen and assist. A crisis intervention and behavior specialist and a former military wife, Kellerman said she can help both servicemembers and their families.
"Just Ask Ali," is an online forum in which servicemembers and family members can ask questions about issues affecting their lives. The service is available to anyone affected by a deployment. Through it, Kellermann offers guidance and suggestions. Some recurrent issues are addressed on the site, and the writers remain anonymous.
"They just need somewhere to go to say, 'Look, I'm dealing with this. Do you have any suggestions? Are there any resources our there that the military provides?'" she said. "Everybody's concerned about not overburdening the other."
Though the Gulf Breeze, Fla., resident, is willing and qualified to offer basic counseling, some issues are out of her realm of comfort, she said. In those cases, she refers people to the appropriate resources within the military.
"Although I do some counseling on the side with families, ... there are a lot of referrals that go on," Kellermann said. "I understand what the military is providing for the families and where they can go."
Kellermann knows well that as helpful as a friendly ear can be, sometimes a good old-fashioned care package is in order. For this reason, one of the facets of Homefront Hugs is a servicemember adoption program. Through Hugs4Smiles, Americans who want to show support for servicemembers can agree to send care packages to "adopted" servicemembers for a period of time.
"Sending packages is just a small way in which we can show our support for the troops," Mary Ellen Esquino, a Hugs volunteer, said. "The Homefront Hugs organization provided that service, and I will be forever grateful. (It) has been a constant support for the troops, their families and for the volunteers."
Those gestures of support are important, Kellermann said. She said that support of the troops should go beyond political and religious lines.
"I feel that we need to unite more and remind our troops that they're all Americans first and that we are behind them as long as they're serving our country, whether or not we're for or against the war," she said. "Because if one of our soldiers falters while trying to serve our country, we've done them a disservice. We may say we support our soldiers, but we really need to walk the walk."
Aside from the support Hugs offers servicemembers and their families, the organization also works to help the U.S. military foster a good rapport with Afghan citizens.
Homefront Orphan Hugs began in November at the request of Army Staff Sgt. Rodolfo "Raven" Fuentes of the 44th Signal Battalion stationed at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. The unit is collecting items for about 400 children in two orphanages near the base. The soldiers are requesting personal, school, medical and entertainment items for the children.
"It's an awfully hard time to be asking for (help for) orphans in another country right now, because we've been hit so hard with the hurricanes (in the United States)," Kellermann said. "It's really important that if we're going to say that we're all children of God and that it's beyond religion and politics that we reach out beyond our country as well."
All the projects under Homefront Hugs' umbrella exist for one reason: to let troops and their families know that no hero is forgotten, she said.