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Woman seeks support network for troops' loved ones
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Catrina Blackburn’s son, Randy Blackburn, 23, joined the Army in May 2005, returning in October 2007. He was redeployed last month and could split the next 12 months between Iraq and Afghanistan. - photo by Tom Reed

Connect with others

If you have questions about a deployment or would like to connect with other military parents, e-mail Catrina Blackburn at supporttheforcesfamilies@gmail.com.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Catrina Blackburn considers herself luckier than many parents of military personnel getting set for deployment overseas.

The first time her son, Randy, was sent to Iraq as part of the U.S. Army's 57th Military Police Company, she and her husband, Artie, were able to get information and updates from a master sergeant who served as her son's company's liaison.

But then, "after he was deployed to Iraq six or seven months after Randy, that was it," said Blackburn, who lives in South Hall, adding that the further flow of information "was kind of like nil."

Complicating matters was that her son is based in Hawaii and, even though the company has a family readiness group, "it's not very easy to be a part of what's going on there."

Blackburn has made it her mission to learn as much about deployment as possible and how it affects both the soldier and families back home, setting up an e-mail account for shared concerns,
supporttheforcesfamilies@gmail.com.

"I set that up so that in 2010, when my son is out (of the Army), I can sit back and say, ‘Yes, I can help you with that,'" Blackburn said.

She would like to generate enough interest to form some relationships, perhaps meet "and chat a little bit."

"I would have appreciated knowing I wasn't alone out there and there are so many emotions and things that go through your mind at first," Blackburn said. "It's scary. You don't sleep at night. You cry at the drop of a hat.

"Just to know that there were other people in my situation within 20 to 30 minutes of me. ... I'm no expert, but I've had four years now of this experience," Blackburn said. "Surely, there is something I can share with people."

Her son, 23, joined the Army in May 2005 and was first deployed to Iraq in July 2006, returning in October 2007. He was redeployed last month and could split the next 12 months between Iraq and another war-torn country, Afghanistan.

Through the years, Catrina Blackburn has learned some seemingly minor but still important things. For example, soldiers need flip-flops to help avoid athlete's foot.

A soldier's field ration includes places for optional food items, such as a can of tuna fish that could be sent from home as part of a care package.

The back of envelopes need to be numbered in the order they are sent, just in case soldiers receive mail out of sequence.

"That to me was a big help," Blackburn said.

When she began researching information on her son's family readiness group, she stumbled across a blog where a mother was saying that her son had been in the service for a year and she had trouble coping emotionally.

The mother asked "anybody out there in the same situation" to write to her.

Blackburn responded.

"So now we're to the point where we ... instant message each other," she said.

The woman recently told Blackburn that she hadn't heard from her son since he had arrived in Kuwait on July 8.

"Nobody told her she should tell her son, ‘Hey, when you get there, this is what you need to do (to call home),'" Blackburn said.

She e-mailed her son, asking him to investigate the whereabouts of the woman's son. He responded, saying he had found the soldier and told him about the connection between their mothers.

"That woman now thinks I'm her guardian angel," Blackburn said.

Hall County has one prominent group, Operation Patriot's Call, that aims to serve families of deployed loved ones.

The group sprang out of the deployment of the Gainesville-based Georgia Army National Guard unit Charlie Company to Afghanistan. Charlie Company is part of the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment of the Guard's 48th Brigade.

But the group doesn't limit itself to just Charlie Company families.

"We're not going to leave any veterans out," said Dave Dellinger, a spokesman for the group. "If they're not in Charlie Company, so what? We're still behind them."

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