Strength in numbers for military families

CORINTH – Putting together the Corinth National Guard’s float for the Christmas parade was one of the ways members of the Family Readiness Group got together to support each other.
As Bonnie Bullock of New Albany added trim to the float bed, she reflected on the years her husband – Sgt. 1st Class Jackie Bullock – has spent with the National Guard, and on his current deployment.
“He’s been with the Guard 37 years and this is his third deployment,” she said. “He went to Bosnia, and this is his second time to Iraq.”
As members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team, the 75 soldiers of D Company based in Corinth are expected to begin returning home in early March, and all of them should return by mid-April.
Other companies in this current deployment include A Company out of Pontotoc; B Company of Booneville; and C Company of Fulton.
“For the current deployment, D Company is the mechanical unit and the soldiers of D Company are actually split among the three other companies,” said Ashley Reed, wife of Company D Commander Capt. Kacey H. Reed.
Some of the soldiers have been home on leave already, heading into the holidays, while others are expected in the days after Christmas.
“My husband got to come home for two weeks of Ramp&R in October,” said Brittney Calvert, wife of Sgt. Randy Calvert. “The kids really miss him a lot, but we’re fortunate that we talk with him on Webcam every weekend.”
The Calvert’s three children – Tristan, 10, Kiera, 9 and Cory, 8 – haven’t known a time when their dad wasn’t a National Guardsman, since he has been in the Guard for 14 years. This is his second deployment to Iraq.
“When I talked with him I told him we were coming today to work on the float,” Brittney Calvert said.
The Key family is postponing much of their Christmas celebration until Dec. 29, when Sgt. Rory Key is expected home from Iraq for two weeks, said his wife, Jessica Key.
At age 2, their son Wyatt isn’t as aware as an older child would be of what’s happening or even about Christmas Day.
“We’ll have a little bit of ‘Santa’ at Rory’s mom’s house in Sardis, but we really won’t celebrate Christmas until he gets home,” Jessica Key said. “We’ve made our plans for New Year’s celebrations and we’re real excited about that.”
FRG support
After decorating the float and riding on it in the parade, members of Corinth’s Family Readiness Group wrapped up the chilly evening with their Christmas party.
“Families try to have some kind of function every month,” Ashley Reed said. “We had a Halloween Festival in October for the kids. Every month we have a meeting on the second Saturday, then a party or fundraiser every fourth Saturday.”
And it doesn’t stop there, she said. As chairwoman of Corinth’s Family Readiness Group, Ashley Reed helps plan and organize many of their functions. The group also gets together from 5-7 p.m. on third and fourth Mondays at the Corinth Armory to prepare care packages to be mailed.
“The FRG is a great support system,” Ashley Reed said. “A lot of the women who never even knew each other a few months ago are best friends now.”
In November the group held a craft fair as a fundraiser to purchase items for care packages and pay postage and also for a homecoming celebration when the soldiers return.
Members of the Corinth unit come from cities all over the region and people from outside Corinth try to make it a point to come whenever they can, Ashley Reed said. They also have get-togethers in Tupelo, have held fundraisers at the Tupelo Flea Market and participated in Yellow Ribbon events in Tupelo and Jackson with National Guard representatives who provide information and resources.
The company commander also sends monthly letters back home to be shared with the soldiers’ families, letters that are informative, supportive and upbeat and help strengthen the bonds among members of the Family Readiness Group.
From Commander Reed’s December message: “Many soldiers are currently conducting redeployment briefings. These will enable the transition back to a traditional Guardsman more easily.
“As I’ve said in previous letters, have an open heart and mind when your soldier returns. These troops have formed a brotherhood. They’ve protected and looked out for one another; its a bond that will last a lifetime!
“I can still recall missions from 2005 even today … and it makes me feel great to know that I helped watch over some of the best soldiers to wear the uniform! That’s the gratification these soldiers feel, and it will last a lifetime.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal