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  • THE WEEK'S TOP STORIES

    Blue Star: Support group recruits local moms

    Micki Williams wasn’t surprised when her son, Dan, enlisted in the Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

    “He’s always had an interest in the military and an adventurous spirit,” said Williams, a Murrells Inlet resident.

    Dan, 27, served three tours of duty in Iraq and was injured twice. He returned home from his third tour last fall and now works for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

    That means a little peace for Williams now, but the last seven years, she said, have taught her the true meaning of fear.

    “It’s really tough when you have a child deployed. You’re worrying constantly,” Williams said. “When they’re deployed they’re gone for nine months at a time in the Marines and a year in the Army. We don’t know where they are and what they’re doing, but we know they’re in harm’s way all the time.”

    If not for Blue Star Mothers, Williams said she’s not sure she’d have made it through Dan’s first deployment.

    Blue Star Mothers traces its origins to World War I, when homes with sons or daughters in the military displayed flags with blue stars in their windows. The nonprofit is for mothers who have or had children serving in the military. They support each other and the troops, and promote patriotism.

    Williams got involved with the group while living in the Upstate, and last fall she started a coastal chapter to serve Georgetown and Horry counties. The group has expanded from five to 35 moms and membership is open.

    One of the most valuable things the group offers is the ready ear of someone who understands what the mother is going through.

    Williams said many people sympathize with families with loved ones overseas, but unless they’ve experienced it for themselves, they can’t really understand what the families are going through.

    “With Blue Star moms, you have a whole group of people who’ve been there to help you through it.”

    That kind of support is invaluable, said Jan Englehart of Murrells Inlet, a new member to the group. Her son, Kevin Biro, 23, is a linguist in the Navy. He enlisted right out of high school and has been deployed twice to the Persian Gulf.

    “These little guys, we cried when they went to kindergarten and now they’re on the other side of the world, doing who knows what,” Englehart said. “We’re so proud of them, but it’s hard. When Kevin first was gone, I had to learn to put it away, so I could go on with my daily life. I’d find simple things would bring me to tears, like if somebody stopped me in the grocery store to ask ‘how’s Kevin?’ You think you’re fine and then you find yourself crying in the cookie aisle. You find yourself watching the news and waiting for the phone to ring and just praying.

    “The treasure of the Blue Star moms,” she continued, “is just to have another mom to talk to that has a son or a daughter who has gone. It’s a special kinship there. You’ve walked that mile and so has she.”

    Williams said one of the things she does when her son is serving overseas is check Web sites that list soldiers who have been killed.

    “I know that’s silly, because if something happened, the families would be the first to know,” she said. But there’s a small comfort to be found in checking the lists and not seeing her son’s name.

    At the same time, there’s a sense of guilt that goes along with it, “because it was somebody else’s son.”

    Tina Hennis of Murrells Inlet, one of the chapter’s founding members, said the other Blue Star moms have become like her family.

    “A lot of these are women I probably would not have had any connection with whatsoever if not for Blue Star Mothers. We have nothing else in common, but we form the most amazing bond, because we have children in the service. If I’ve got a problem in my life, especially if it involves my son, I call them.”

    Hennis’ son, Christopher Atkinson, a Marine, returned last week from his first tour of duty.

    While they’re powerless to protect their children serving overseas, Blue Star moms do what they can to bring comfort to the troops.

    One of the group’s primary functions is to collect money and supplies to mail care packages to soldiers. They’re currently collecting for Easter Hero boxes that will go out soon.

    In addition to items such as Tylenol, playing cards, shampoo, instant coffee and dried fruit, the group is also looking for businesses willing to be drop-off locations, and the names and addresses of soldiers on active duty to add to their mailing list.

    “It’s not just for the children of our members,” Williams said. “We’re happy to send packages to anybody who’s serving.”

    For the recipients of the boxes, they represent a little piece of home.

    Englehart said her son told her about the excitement that followed when one of his shipmates received a package from his grandmother.

    “She’d vacuum-sealed a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts,” she said. “They were flat as pancakes, but he said they didn’t care. They cut them up and shared them and they were all so happy. That’s what the boxes mean to them. It means that somebody is here thinking about them.”

    Williams said socks are her son’s favorite thing to receive in care packages, because they don’t always have an opportunity to wash their clothing when they’re in the middle of the desert.

    Blue Star Mothers is also involved with Operation Welcome Home, which ensures that soldiers returning home get a warm community welcome on arrival. Last week, they welcomed home Hennis’ son.

    “He pulled into the parking lot at the American Legion with his buddy and the place was packed,” Williams said. “All these people were outside holding flags as they drove down [Highway] 17 and when they got out of the car everybody started cheering. That’s the kind of welcome they should all be getting and we try to make sure they do.”

    “It’s great, because I just made one phone call,” Hennis said. “When you’ve got your child coming home, you’re so excited, you can’t thing about anything else, including who you need to contact. I’m so thankful, because they took care of everything.”

    Blue Star moms also attend memorial services when local soldiers die, as a way to honor their service and sacrifice, and to support the family and offer help.

    “Whatever we can do for soldiers and their families, that’s what we’re here for,” Williams said.

    Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina meets the fourth Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at 1100 Forestbrook Rd. in Myrtle Beach.

    For information, call 215-5055 or visit BlueStarMothersOfCoastalCarolina.com.

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