Marine Moms helps family members of military personnel cope

November 9th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marine Moms helps family members of military personnel cope


The Tuscaloosa News

NORTHPORT, Ala. - At the front door of Luke and Charlene Coburn's home in Northport's Vestavia Hills subdivision, it's clear this is the home of a military family.
Prominently displayed on the picture window beside the door are two small banners. In the center of one is a blue star on white background with a red border, indicating that the mother of an active service member lives here. The second banner has a silver star in the center, indicating that the service member has been wounded in a combat zone.
When the weather permits, an American flag flies in the front yard.
But you don't have to go to the Coburn home to know that Charlene Coburn is part of the unofficial branch of the military that plays a vital role in supporting U.S. troops. She routinely wears several small pins indicating that she is a Marine Mom and a Blue-Star Mom. And she welcomes the opportunity to talk about her son, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Coburn, who joined the Marine Corps eight years ago and is finishing up his second tour of duty in Iraq.
If students in her classroom at Northridge High School balk at reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, she politely asks that they at least stand, out of respect for her son, who is defending their right to protest. Usually they do. It's hard to ignore such an impassioned plea.
Coburn is the first to admit that she did everything a Marine's mother shouldn't do when her son left the University of Alabama as a junior and joined the Marines in 1998. She interrogated the recruiter, the recruiter's wife and mother. She wanted to know everything involved in her son's decision.
When he went to boot camp at Camp Lejeune, N.C., she called the base every day to check on him. While she couldn't talk to him, she talked to his commanding officer or anyone else she could get on the phone. She wanted to make sure that he was OK, had not overexerted in the heat, was eating right - all the things mothers worry about.
She sent boxes of homemade cookies regularly and other mementoes of home.
She later learned that her actions got her son in trouble and that his entire unit had to pay consequences. All the Marines would have to eat every cookie within seconds of the shipment arriving. Then they'd have to go out and run it off, often losing it in other, more immediate ways.
"Now, I know it was wrong, but I'd probably do it again," Coburn said.
Like many mothers, she just had a hard time letting go.
That was before she discovered the Marine Moms group that had been organized a few years earlier to help women like her let go of the sons and daughters who had joined the service and to provide appropriate support for their children.
Although her son was part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, it was not until his second tour of duty in 2005 that Coburn found Marine Moms.
"The day he left, I came back home, crying so hard, I had to do something," Coburn said.
It had never occurred to her that other mothers were facing the same fears and concerns. But she got online and started writing about how tough it was to put her son on the plane, now that she knew what Iraq was all about.
"I must have gotten 100 replies right away," she said. "And we have been talking ever since."
That was a year ago.
Coburn was already practiced at putting together care packages for troops. A few months before finding Marine Moms, she had become a Platoon Mom and "adopted" a couple of platoons overseas.
She writes letters and sends e-mails to each of the troops in her platoons and sends boxes of homemade brownies, candies and cookies, along with other snacks and essentials like underwear, socks and toiletries.
Her husband, who was formerly in the Air Force, ships the boxes from his pharmacy, The Medicine Shoppe in Northport. He gladly supports his wife's efforts and doesn't even mind the $450 to $600 she spends each month preparing the packages.
"She really enjoys doing it," he said. "When they write letters saying they appreciate what she does, that encourages her."
She needs that encouragement when she's knee deep in 300 brownies and 1,200 cookies, all individually wrapped, for one shipping.
Coburn communicates with other Platoon Moms around the country, exchanging ideas on what to send and what the troops request. But it was not until she found the Marine Moms that she got the support she needed and found a way to provide support for others like her.
A large table in the Coburns' home is covered with scrapbook pieces, including a pile of condolence letters that will become part of the latest book she's putting together. One of the projects she does is create condolence books for the families of service members who have been killed.
She is working on her seventh book.
"When the Department of Defense puts out an announcement that a soldier has been killed, it goes out on the Internet," Coburn said. "A Marine Mom will volunteer to put together a book, usually within a few hours.
"Then we deliver them in person. We first try to call the mother within 24 hours to let them know we're here for them and will be making the condolence book and working with them."
She said the role of Marine Moms is different from the role of casualty officers who inform families of their loved one's death and help sort out paperwork and other things.
"We're strictly volunteering," Coburn said. "Nobody is paying me to do this. We're just here for each other."
Included in the condolence books are letters of sympathy from other Marine Moms, copies of the obituary, accounts of the overseas memorial, pictures of the fallen hero and any other material that can be gathered about the person's military life.
Coburn, estimating it takes her a couple of weeks to complete a book, works nights and weekends on her books.
"I'm very particular about how they look," she said. She buys the best supplies she can find, including leather binders. "I want them to look right and something to be proud of."
She's even enrolled a designer friend to help her make the books look good.
"Every book has gotten prettier and bigger," she said. "I'm learning with each one. And I can always go to the Marine Moms Web site for suggestions."
By the time she finishes her current book, she estimates she will have invested $5,000 to $6,000 in the books. But that doesn't seem to faze her.
"I was an officer's wife, and I have a certain standard," she said. "It's not a military book without the insignia of the branch of service. I want it to look professional and be something a family would be proud of whether the soldier was a private or an officer."
The books are not limited to Marines. The book Coburn is working on will go to the family of Army Sgt. Marquees Quick of Hoover, who was killed in Iraq on Aug. 19.
Pam Adcock of Huntsville is the president and founder of the Alabama Marine Moms, which started in 2004. She joined after her son was about to go on his second tour in Iraq.
"The first one was very rough on me, hard on my nerves," Adcock said. "When I found out he was going again, I said, 'I'm not going through this alone. There's got to be a support group somewhere."
The closest Marine Moms group she found was in Nashville. She worked with those mothers for a while, doing her first condolence book for Marine Lance Cpl. Bradley Faircloth of Mobile, who was killed Nov. 25, 2004.
Through that work, Adcock found more Alabama mothers interested in forming their own group. The 2-year-old organization has about 25 active members, with Coburn the only one in the Tuscaloosa area.
And like the condolence books, the organization is not just for mothers of Marines, Adcock said.
"No mother should not have someone to turn to when they have a need," she said. "We wanted to include all branches of the military."
Dues for Alabama Marine Moms is $10 a month, which help pay for the care packages, scrapbooks and angel tags - a memento for families that includes the deceased's name, photo and date of death.
The group meets the second Saturday of each month in Huntsville, where members make cards to send to troops, put together care packages, share news about their Marines or soldiers and just spend time together.
Adcock said although it's mostly mothers, the group is open to fathers, siblings and other interested family members.
"We have a couple of dads who get right in there with us when we're making cards and things," Adcock said
November 10th, 2006  
Thanks for posting this Team Infidel.

I guess it comes from being a thirty-something woman, but I feel a great deal of affinity for the mothers of serving personnel: they are typically the first people I think of when I hear of a death. If I were in the same situation, I am pretty sure I would struggle to cope.

I loved the story about the DIs making her son share his cookies, then forcing his platoon to run it, I'd send the cookies anyway: you can't have too much PT hehe.

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