Shira Callahan, left, a Florida National Guard family support specialist and Susan Perryman, wife of commanding Brig. Gen. Mitchell Perryman, work on program for the families of deployed soldiers.
PINELLAS PARK - The families of Army National Guardsmen recently shipped to Afghanistan attended a day-long seminar recently to help them cope with the problems of deployment.
About 900 troops from Pinellas County joined others from Polk, Hillsborough and Hernando counties. They are scattered throughout that war-torn country, teaching its military how to fight terrorism.
The last wave of National Guardsmen and women from the 53rd Separate Infantry Division left recently from the Armed Forces Reserve Center at 2801 Grand Ave. for training at Fort Shelby, Miss., before being sent to Afghanistan.
The brigade is called “Separate” because it is one of 14 in the Army that is completely self-contained with its own medical, supply, transportation and other units.
“They will come home safe and sound,” said Susan Perryman, wife of Brig. Gen. Mitchell Perryman, who was the first commanding general to lead his troops to Afghanistan.
Shira Callahan, a Florida National Guard family support specialist, spearheaded the seminar for more than 350 wives, girlfriends, children and parents of deployed soldiers.
“The people left behind face many problems,” said Callahan, whose own husband is an Army sergeant. “They must cope with financial, psychological and relationship problems.”
The military does everything possible to help the families, especially wives with young children. The military deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq are among the first where troops have access to e-mails and cell phones. That helps families stay in touch.
Many joined the military before the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, never expecting to fight in a real war. Suddenly they are being shot at, bombed and involved in urban warfare.
“It sometimes changes personalities,” Callahan said. “Families saw those changes just after their training in Mississippi, and it goes beyond that in a war zone.”
Callahan’s husband, Daniel, now stationed in Tampa, was deployed 22 times during his Army career. They met as youngsters, later became pen pals and eventually married.
“Deployment is very difficult on wives,” she said. “Suddenly they have to carry the burden. They have to mow the lawn. They have to handle all the responsibilities.”
That’s where Callahan’s family support center comes in. She walks dependents through the arduous path of military health and other benefits, counsels them about relationships and loneliness.
“Military life from the outset can be overwhelming for a young mother, for anyone,” Callahan said.
Being away for 18 months also causes marriages and other relationship problems that are resolved. A few women even disappear while their husbands are overseas.
Probably the biggest problem is financial. Under the national Service Members Civil Relief Act, dependents are protected from being harassed by creditors. But that doesn’t mean that an unscrupulous few don’t take advantage of them.
The recent seminar covered such topics as the effects of deployment on families, emotional and spiritual problems and where dependents can go for help. Military personnel, the Veterans Health Administration, Military One Source and others conducting various portions of the event. Children of all ages were treated to crafts, physical activities and other events.
“It’s difficult and one must get their life back in order,” said Perryman, whose one star husband will be away for another 15 months. “We cry and we pray for their safe return.”