Sergio Lopez struggles to raise his children after losing both legs in Iraq. Sgt. Dan Casara is recuperating from his 24th operation after a bomb exploded underneath his tank. Lisa Guerrero has watched her husband and three stepsons head off to combat. Shaala Sherman’s youngest son barely knew daddy before he headed to war.
For these Chicago area families, war is not an abstract event in a foreign land. It’s an everyday reality that can alter a family’s future in the instant it takes for a bomb to explode underneath an unsuspecting soldier’s Humvee.
Operation Homefront Illinois in Willowbrook is reaching out to these and many other military families. In 2008, more than 3,000 Illinois National Guardsmen will be deployed, the largest call-up since World War II, says Eric Schuller, president of Operation Homefront Illinois. "This will affect lots more people and some are doing their second and third deployment."
Each deployment has been more difficult for families. A few years ago, children of soldiers mainly worried about their parents’ safety, Schuller says. Now kids hear from classmates and the media that soldiers shouldn’t be in Iraq, so they’re also wondering if their mom or dad is doing something bad. "That’s a real strain on a 9- or 10-year-old."
This month, Operation Homefront Illinois starts a new program with more than 20 local family and child psychologists who will offer free services to military families. "Sometimes people just need someone to talk to," Schuller says. "We don’t want people to suffer in silence and keep things bottled up."
Operation Homefront also helps military families in financial need and will soon begin raising money for baby showers for military wives. If you want to help or you’re a military family in need of assistance or counseling, check out the Web site at www.Operationhomefront.net/Illinois.