Gaining strength as their children serve the country overseas
Sunday marks an especially meaningful Mother's Day for Sherry Yonker and her family. After being split by an ocean and many countries for months, her son returned from his first tour in Iraq two weeks ago.
"At the airport, I can't even tell you the emotions I had," she said of seeing him get off the airplane. "I hope I never have those again. I wanted to hold him so badly I couldn't wait."
Cpl. Kenneth Yonker, 23, returned from a seven-month tour in Iraq and his mom considers it a wonderful Mother's Day present.
"Ever since he was little he always wanted to be a Marine," she said. "I'm very proud of him. I admire him. He's my hero. After 9/11 he really wanted to do what he could to help and I think he has. He's succeeded in that goal."
Seeing their children succeed is a goal of many mothers, but for those with children in the military, it can be a difficult journey. No news can be good news, but moms cling to some of the available modes of communications: emails, phone calls and even mailed greeting cards that allow senders to record a voice message.
"Those poor moms in World War II with no email, no phone calls, just someone pulling up to the door with a notice," Sherry Yonker said. "Just to hear his chuckle--I held onto that."
Another way Yonker made it through the ordeal was joining the Pleasanton Military Families (PMF) support group. There, she met other families who could commiserate, send packages to support troops and get updates from other local servicemen and women through daily emails.
Ofelia Gomez is also a member of the group and was thankful for the support right down to assistance in figuring out the mechanics of making a phone call to her daughter Jennifer, 21, an Army medic.
"It's been very encouraging," she said. "It's been great to see and hear other moms and parents going through the same struggles."
Gomez is waiting a little longer for her Mother's Day present, as Jennifer will end her 14-month tour of service in Iraq early June.
"I'm so glad it's May, because now I'm counting weeks and soon will count days until she's home," she said.
It was one day in the car that Jennifer told her mom she wanted to learn more about the Army.
"I was really surprised and scared," Ofelia Gomez said. "Then she said, 'Didn't you teach me about God's plan for me and how he will protect me wherever I am?' I didn't know what to do, then she said the reason why [she wanted to go]: 'I want to serve God, other people and my country,' she said, so I had peace about it."
While it has been one of the most "scary and painful experiences" for the Gomez family, their faith has grown more than ever.
"My desire is to reach out to other moms that are going through the same things," she said. "I don't know how moms who depend on their own strength can go through a thing like this; that is my desire to be able to share with others what God has done for us."
Cindy De Pretis' son, Chris, who turns 20 in June, is also currently deployed to Iraq and found the support from other families to be very helpful.
"At first it's really hard but it gets easier," she said. "Pleasanton Military Families makes a huge difference."
Chris graduated from Amador Valley High School in 2006 and went to boot camp a few weeks later. He is now an infantry SAW gunner and is expected to return home in either December or January.
One of the hardest parts for the De Pretis family is having to go through holidays and even the death of a grandmother without him. Yet, they find creative ways of staying in contact online.
"We talk through AIM [AOL instant messenger], which I've never used before," she said. "It's really great and very convenient. He sends messages and pictures through MySpace, which I would have never used before."
He's already been home for his 18-day leave and seeing him made it easier for the family to say goodbye again. Although, De Pretis noticed that his military experience has changed her son.
"He's very much in the war," she said. "He has had friends die, and has been shot at--he's very much on the front lines. It takes them from being a child to a man. It was a very profound and clear-cut severing.
"That is very interesting as a mother--one day he's your child and six weeks later he's not mine anymore," she continued. "I also think it's been the best thing in the world for him. I mean, he's not fond of the Army, but he sees how it stretches you and teaches you discipline. He says 'They strip you of all you freedoms so that you know what it is to be free.'"
The strength she's gained as a military mom will be put to work again as her son Marc will join the Marines after graduating this year from Village High School. As her involvement with PMF continues she looks forward not only to Chris' homecoming, but also of those she's learned about through the group.
"The group coordinates homecomings for every soldier who comes back home after their tour," De Pretis said. "They often have the Patriot Guard waiting at the airport to escort the soldier home. Then people wait at the home with a "welcome home" banner, flags waving, music playing, people cheering. The VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] is there in uniform and the soldier is presented with a flag, a medal and a letter from the congressman. This is all coordinated by the group and is the most overwhelming display of love that you could ever imagine."
When Kenny Yonker was recently welcomed home, his homecoming included a water arch from fire hoses over the planes, Amercian flags scattered throughout his lawn, uniformed veterans waiting to shake his hand and 100 thankful members of the community.
"It would be an answer to prayer to have everyone received in that manner," Sherry Yonker said. "[Kenny] was really touched by it all. In my eyes, they all deserve it. They're hometown heros."
How to locally support troops
Get involved with a military families group
One way moms cope is by joining together with other families through the Pleasanton Military Families support group. It meets at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at a different group member's home each month. Throughout the year they gather to talk and share updates as well as send packages to troops.
For those wanting a yellow streamer placed on light poles on Main Street in honor of a man or woman in the service, give Chris Miller a call at 730-1604.
Donate items at Operation SAM's spring donation drive
In Livermore, Operation: SAM (Supporting All Military) is planning its biggest military appreciation drive yet from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 31 at the Livermore Wal-Mart, 2700 Las Positas Road.
Many items have been requested for troops in Wounded Warrior Casualty Hospitals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, as well as U.S. deployed military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The all-volunteer, apolitical, nonprofit group is asking that community members stop to think of the troops by donating some items or even writing a letter of encouragement and appreciation.
While residents are enjoying weather in the 70s and 80s, Operation SAM organizers said troops are currently enduring sand storms and heat in excess of 140 degrees. To make the heat and living situation more bearable, they are requesting the following items to be donated: eye wash, nasal saline spray, deodorant, razors, white cotton tube socks, washcloths, bug repellent, Tylenol, sunblock, cough drops, Tums, trail mix, individual water flavorings, granola and energy bars, jerky, lip balm, batteries and more.
They will also collect used cell phones, working or not, to be exchanged for prepaid phone cards that would allow troops to speak with loved ones.
To learn more about Operation SAM and the donation drive, visit www.operationsam.org or call 443-7620.