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Local Woman Creates Support Group for Military Families

When she wasn't able to find the support she needed, Tonja Beverly created her own group.

One of the hardest things Farmington Hills resident Tonja Beverly ever had to do was watch her only son go off to war.

Airman Joe Murphy, 25, serves with the 43rd Air Force Squadron out of Polk Air Force Base in North Carolina. He was deployed to the Middle East this past September.

"It was a little difficult to see him off on his new journey in life," Beverly said. "With his job being such a dangerous one, it was so hard to get it through my head he's going to be okay, he's going to be okay."

With her son deployed overseas, Beverly began searching for support groups in the area.

"I made quite a few calls looking for support groups," Beverly said. "There wasn't anything like what we have here in Oakland County or surrounding areas. I talked to my therapist about it, and she said why don't you start one? And from that point, I started calling facilities, and Botsford answered my prayers. They assigned me a room for the next year."

With her son gone to war, Beverly had many questions and very few answers. Among other things, she wondered whether her son would be moving around a lot and how to contact him in emergencies.

The support group is a way to share those uncertainties and gain information from others who have had the same experience.

The Military Families Support Group meets the third Saturday of the month at , in classroom A/B of the Zieger Center.

The first meeting was held on Oct. 16. Two people attended.

"In my opinion, from what Debbie had told me, she's the person that I have been in contact with at Botsford, she said for a few months you may be sitting there by yourself," Beverly said. "So in my opinion, it was a success because at least two people came."

'It gives you a chance to know that you're not alone'

Linda Racey of Farmington Hills attended the first meeting. She learned about it after seeing a flyer that Beverly had made.

"I've been trying to formulate a group like that for a long time," Racey said.

Her ex-husband and still best friend, U.S. Army Sgt. Ahmed Kousay Altaie is a prisoner of war and has been missing for over four years now.

An Iraqi-American Army linguist soldier from Ann Arbor, Altaie was kidnapped in Baghdad on Oct. 23, 2006.

"We divorced amicably, but he's still my very best friend on the face of this Earth," Racey said. "I don't get any support from the Army and neither does his family at all. The Army or the FBI or any of these governmental agencies do nothing to communicate anything about his case at all. It's gone completely cold."

Racey has a whole Facebook page dedicated to freeing Sgt. Altaie.

"I think this support group will be very beneficial for people to be able to come and talk about the things that are unknown," Racey said. "It's very good to learn about the things that are going on and that people are going through the same trials and tribulations about their loved ones being at war."

Racey believes a forum that allows people to express their fear and stress will help tremendously.

"It gives you a chance to know that you're not alone," Racey said. "The two ladies that were there, Tonja and the other woman, were able to compare a couple of things. It's good to give advice and listen and be able to help ease the minds of other people who are going through the not knowing of where their sons are, the lack of communication, so on and so forth."

Racey said she was able to help by giving Beverly specific questions to ask her son the next time he called home.

All ages are welcome

Beverly believes that more people will attend the monthly meetings as the community gains awareness of the group.

"There's no sign in sheet, just come on in," Beverly said. "They can bring a picture of their loved one in the service."

Everybody is welcome, including children.

"They have emotions also," Beverly said about children. "And I believe they have a great need to get how they feel out too so it doens't stunt their growth and maturity."

Racey also believes that anyone thinking of joining the military should attend a support group meeting.

"It's really important to have this type of group to talk about the truth not being told," Racey said. "There's a lot of hidden agendas with the U.S. Army and a lot of lies being told. People need to know what they are getting into. It would be nice if people thinking of joining the Army to come and listen to the group."

The support group's next meeting will be on Nov. 20 from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Botsford's Zieger Center on 28050 Grand River Avenue in Farmington Hills.

"It's a place to get a lot of unknown questions answered about your family member that is overseas and share your feelings," Beverly said.

Tom Hubred November 20, 2010 at 06:08 PM
First, I would like to thank Tonja and Linda for their service as family and loved ones of those who put themselves forward to serve our great nation. I pray for the safe return of Airman Murphy and Sgt. Altaie and am very grateful for their service. I would also like to thank Nicole for doing this story and raising awareness of the issues faced by the families and loved ones of our servicemen and women. My son was deployed to Iraq from Feb 2009 to Jan 2010 with the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division of the MN Army National Guard. Since National Guard units are community based, we have a ready-made support system. Having said that, there are many resources available to all members of the armed forces and their families. Here are a couple of links that I think may be useful: http://www.ourmilitary.mil/help.shtml http://fhp.osd.mil/deploymentTips.jsp http://www.military.com/Benefits http://www.semredcross.org/things-to-consder-before-you-leave I hope this helps and I wish you and your servicemen all the best. God bless.

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