Towson University hosts event for Maryland National Guard families

Gabby Turner came to Towson University from Glen Burnie on Saturday to ask other mothers about how they are coping without their husbands who are deployed overseas with the Maryland National Guard.

The event was part of the university's program called Operation Guardian Tiger. To pledge ongoing support for the deployed soldiers and their families, the school has adopted the Maryland National Guard's 200th and 290th Military Police companies, based in Parkville and Catonsville respectively, currently deployed to Afghanistan since May.

Turner came with her two young sons, both under 2, so she could "talk to other mothers and hear how they are doing — and maybe to see if they are having as hard a time as I am," Turner said.

She misses her husband, Stanley, a lot, she said. "The worst part is not having him here. He was everything to us. Now I have to be mom, dad and friend, and I can feel very alone," said Turner, quickly wiping a tear so her boys wouldn't see her crying.

"Someday I'm going to give myself a medal for getting through this," Turner said.

Called Family Fun Day, the event included a barbecue, basketball and football clinics, an appearance by TU mascot Doc the Tiger, arts and crafts, video taping, the promise of free tickets to any game on campus and plans for the families to prepare care packages that will be sent overseas to the soldiers.

President Maravene Loeschke said the Towson University's commitment to the program is "very deep" and "passionate."  "We want to take care of our families any way we can, and to thank you so sincerely for what you are doing for us and the country."

First Lt. Femi Opesanmi, who is in charge of the 290th rear detachment, said the Guard is very appreciative of the support. "Anything family related falls to me. When something happens to one family, it affects all of us. 

"It's very bad when a soldier's mind is on something else in a combat zone. When they can stay focused on their mission, it makes them safer," Opesanmi said.

The Guard's mission in Afghanistan is to supply security for U.S. forces and sometimes Afghan forces for convoys and other operations, according to Col. Andrew Yaukey, who's responsible for soldier readiness and and support services for the Maryland National Guard. "Typically, after a short training period, they spend nine months 'in country,'" which in this case is Afghanistan, he said.

TU chose the Maryland National Guard because of its close connection to the community — its federal role can be providing security in foreign lands, but its state role can be one of security and support during disasters closer to home such as hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

The Guard also was chosen because, unlike other military branches, its soldiers have no geographical base from which to provide support services. They might gather for training exercises a few weeks a year at the same local armory, but for the most part Guard members and their families live miles apart and often in different states.

Jen Howell drove an hour and a half from Southern Maryland so daughters, Rachel, 5, and Ashlynn, 2, "would have the chance to be around kids going through the same thing," she said.

Although her husband, Steven, a Guard mortar man, is not currently deployed, Loch Raven Village resident Cynthia Fichthorn came with her 3-year-old son, to support the families of other troops.

"Your neighbors don't know what you're going through," Fichthorn said "Because the Guard is so spread out, events like this are important to strengthen the community of spouses."

Sheri Cobb, of Joppatowne, and her husband, Shawn have been taking care of their grandson, Leland, since their daughter, Amber, was deployed with the Guard.

Cobb, who comes from a military family, said Amber and Leland stayed with her for a period of time before Amber left so the separation would be less traumatic for Leland.

"When he sees the soldiers in uniform here, he knows that Mommy is in the Army and she's doing her job," Cobb said. 

"He doesn't understand time yet, so we don't give him dates. We tell him she will come home after Halloween, and after Christmas and then after his birthday," Cobb said.

Former Towson resident Ellen Perry, who now lives in Sparks, has been volunteering for Guard families for 10 years. That's five years after her son — now Command Sgt. Major Aaron Henderson — was  promoted out of the local unit to brigade level. 

"It was different back then when they were first deployed and people stepped up to support them," Perry said. "Now our military is just so underappreciated.

"This is the first time in 10 years that any college has been involved. I just wish other schools and businesses also would step up to the plate."

Perry would welcome inquires through

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