Operation Network Military Mom Offers Support

If sending cookies is considered an act of support, Sandi Cook runs the bakery.

Cook's 19-year-old son, David, an Army paratrooper, was recently deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom.

At first, she felt alone — scared and worried.

But instead of keeping feelings of sadness and trepidation to herself, Cook decided to found an organization to assist other moms like her: Operation Network Military Moms.

Run from her Mesa, Ariz., home, she describes it as a way to reach out for support. Now, military families across the country are reaching back.

"I started this because I was falling apart, my son got deployed, I didn’t know where he was sent, and no one understood how I was feeling, I didn’t know other military families," Cook said. "I thought surely there must to be people out there who feel like I do, and I didn't see any support for military and military families." 

Cook's is one of a number of ad-hoc networks that have popped up to support military families that find themselves left behind since more than 26,000 reserve troops have been called back to active duty and sent into harm's way.

Cook first contacted the American Red Cross, where she learned about the Military Services Division and its lack of funds. The organization has rapidly expanded from merely providing drop-off points for items to be packed into care packages into broader efforts such as selling T-shirts designed by Cook's husband to benefit the Red Cross. 

The goal is to sell one million shirts. Cook said 500 have already been sold and another thousand ordered. 

"She’s pouring herself into the project," said Andrea Munzer, director of marketing and communication for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Red Cross. "She called us and wanted to get involved. We do emergency communication, which means if a military family member has an emergency, such as a birth or a relative dies, we are the person that communicates that message to the soldier.

"The fact that she’s a military mom and that we do emergency communication is a good match," Munzer said. "You always want to know in a time of urgency that you could get in touch with a family member even if you don’t know where they are in the world -- and that’s the service we provide."

The operation's Web site (http://www.milmoms.com) lists a phone number for anyone seeking support, and the evidence of its popularity is Cook's hoarse, but still chipper, voice. Two phone lines are manned by volunteers who offer a caring ear for moms and anyone else who needs support or empathy from someone with the same feelings of fear, sadness and pride in their gut.

"People really need support — a place military families can call in and talk to someone else who is going through the same thing," Cook said. "This has been the best therapy for me. We're so scared and worried thinking the worst because we can't hear their voice. Some of us didn't even get to say goodbye." 

In addition to the T-shirts benefiting the Red Cross, there is a shirt being sold to support Operation Network Military Moms. Cook hopes to receive enough donations and corporate support to start a newsletter and maintain a 24-hour hotline so military families can call whenever they need comfort.

Local military mom members work at Cook's home-based operation. She has heard from families in all 50 states, 14 of which now have volunteer operation coordinators to help create local support systems. 

"I’ve heard everything from, 'I’m a mom and want to share' to nothing but sobs on the other end of the line for 10 minutes before they can even talk to me," Cook said of the callers. "People are so grateful for what we’re doing here, for nothing else if but to talk to someone who understands."

Cook is a mother of eight, and part of this effort was to help her children — who look up to their brother stationed abroad — work through their feelings. "They help fill orders, get T-shirts ready to ship and they talk to people. We've been in touch with other siblings, and it helped them tremendously to know they aren't the only ones.

"We want to pump everybody up and keep everybody together," Cook said. "It sounds like a huge job but I’m a determined woman. I know there's a need."

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