Military support like none other
The Pleasanton Military Families support group has been busy holding homecoming ceremonies for the local men and women coming home from Iraq. But that doesn't mean this group's work is done. At one time, more than 200 from Pleasanton served in Iraq and the number in Afghanistan is increasing. PMF's job continues.
Just this past Christmas, PMF sent 250 packages to troops there, along with 14 collapsible Christmas trees and 14 lighted garlands. The group will send spring packets on March 17, with two more mailings set for the year. For the Pleasanton troops, packages from home are bountiful with enough supplies to pass around to fellow soldiers. Several have written back with thanks, reporting that many in their unit seldom receive similar packages of food and supplies from their families, let alone from a group of well-wishers in the communities where they're from.
PMF was organized in 2003 by Chris Miller and Alice Johnston. Several hundred have joined the group since with quite a few staying on to support other families once their own sons or daughters have returned safely. Tracey Buescher, a local Realtor, found plenty of shoulders for her head to rest on after her husband Col. Chris Beuscher, an American Airlines pilot, was deployed to Kuwait a few weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq. The call came on a Sunday and he was gone by Tuesday. Suddenly, Tracey was left as the sole parent to two daughters, then 8 and 4 years old, and a household to maintain, bills to pay and, as she recalls, the terrible uncertainty as to how long all this would continue. When Col. Beuscher returned late that year, the two devoted more time hosting PMF meetings for the growing number of parents, husbands and wives who were left behind as their loved ones shipped off to Iraq.
Pat Frizzell, a Pleasanton nurse at Kaiser Permanente, said goodbye to her son David when his Marines unit was activated. A priest told her about PMF and she went to its first meeting. With Tracey Buescher, she's now co-chairing the group, which holds meetings at least twice a month and holds fundraisers throughout the year. Pat recalls that when her son told her he was there for the fall of Baghdad, she had the close friends she's met at PMF to comfort her during the fierce fighting at that time. Even more so today, those coming to PMF meetings whose loved ones are now in Afghanistan need the same kind of camaraderie and comfort that helped her.
PMF is unique in that it is a local organization specifically set up to help those in Pleasanton. Other groups such as Blue Star Moms and the Lafayette Flag Brigade sponsor homecomings, but Miller says he knows of no group like Pleasanton's. Perhaps PMF is best known for the festive homecomings it sponsors when a Pleasanton soldier comes home. Often escorted by a motorcycle escort, these service men and women are met at the airport and drive home to a PMF-arranged program that includes bagpipe music by Foothill High's Donna Willy, short speeches, usually a Pleasanton welcome home proclamation presented by City Councilman Jerry Thorne, and almost always a message of thanks from Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton).
In starting the homecoming celebrations, Miller said he never wants returning vets to be treated as were those coming home from service in Vietnam, which he remembers. After all, he said it's a joyous event to both salute those coming home and the parents who spent months missing and worrying about them.
PMF also is turning its attention to helping those who've served once they come back home. Often these young men and women who may have enlisted right out of high school find it a bit bewildering to be back where there's no shortage of opportunities. PMF members offer them help in finding jobs, settling into their own apartments, and even some counseling. Here are volunteers and a support group that deserves thanks from all of us. For more information, sign on to the Pleasanton Military Families' website at www.pleantonmilitaryfamilies.org.