Group helps loved ones of deployed

Military Families Ministry says 'we care' to troops, those waiting at home

Photo by J.D.Cavrich Tracie Ciambotti of Bellwood and co-founder of Military Families Ministry, shows some of the items the organization sends to deployed military personnel and their family members.

When their son or daughter graduates from boot camp, military moms are so proud. But that pride can be overshadowed by a heartsick feeling when that child is deployed.

Willing to make sacrifices to keep America free, young men and women can be assigned to fight on foreign soil within days after completing a few months of specialty training. The assignments can involve risks, including the possibility of giving their lives for the price of freedom.

It’s a scary thought for a mother who has nurtured and cared for her child from birth through his or her early adulthood.

Tracie Ciambotti of Bellwood and Paula Parker of State College know that feeling. They know what it is like to send their offspring off to a war zone, unsure of what lies ahead or if they will ever see their child again.

“I didn’t have a clue that his new life would affect my life,” said Ciambotti, whose son was 17 when he enlisted in the Army in June 2005, two days after graduating from high school.

To help other moms and loved ones going through similar experiences, Ciambotti and Parker organized Military Families Ministry in 2010.

The group offers support to moms, wives and other family members of military personnel, as well as what might be considered an extended family that includes their loved one in the armed forces and those serving in his or her deployed unit.

For Ciambotti, her son’s choice of a military life seemed like a good one. She said he loves the outdoors and is an avid hunter and fisherman. She watched him grow from a “wet-behind-the-ears” kid to a responsible young man during boot camp. It was a few months later that a new reality set in.

By November 2005, her son, Josh, had completed combat infantry school and was headed to Iraq. She, her husband, Jeff, and her daughter, Danielle, traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to spend Thanksgiving with Josh, who would leave the following Monday for the Middle East.

When they had to say goodbye, the seriousness of the situation came to the forefront for Ciambotti.

“It was at that moment that I had my first feeling of discomfort about him being in the service,” she said.

“I stood in the parking lot thinking: ‘How do I say goodbye to my son?’ He is going to get in a plane tomorrow and go across the pond and land in Iraq.'”

On the way back to Pennsylvania, she said she kept thinking: “My son is going to war, he could be shot. He’s going to shoot people.”

Six weeks after he was deployed, she said she went into a tailspin of fear.

“I was waiting for the phone call, the knock at the door. I felt paralyzed at times,” she said.

At that time, Ciambotti, who was living in State College, was also leading a Bible study group at State College Alliance Church, called “Breaking Through to Spiritual Maturity.” It was based on Neil T. Anderson’s books — “Victory Over the Darkness” and “The Bondage Breaker.”

Through the study, she realized she did not have to worry every time she heard a news report about a soldier being killed or wounded in Iraq.

“I did not have to be afraid,” she said. “I could control my thoughts, feelings and emotions.”

A few years later, her son was deployed again and Ciambotti learned that Parker, another mother at State College Alliance Church, had a child who had recently been deployed. Parker was seeking prayers for her daughter, Sara, a Marine Corps reservist.

“I was very concerned for her safety,” she wrote in an email about her daughter’s assignment to Iraq.

“I was concerned about how they treat women there. She’s a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, so she would stand out.”

Parker said she felt a sense of panic.

“When you are a parent, you are programmed to protect your child,” she said. When that child is deployed, “you are unable to protect them, and you don’t know minute to minute where they are or if they are OK. It is very unsettling.”

The two moms began praying for each other, Ciambotti said. Their connection led to the formation of the first Military Families Ministry group, which is affiliated with State College Alliance Church.

During this time, Ciam­botti also kept a journal, which eventually became the basis for her book, “Battles of the Heart.” In it, she shares her personal story and offers guidance for others in the section called, “Boot Camp for Military Moms.”

Ciambotti, who also has two daughters, said while it is difficult to send a child off to college or have him or her move for a job, saying goodbye to a child in the military is different.

“It’s life changing for the whole family,” she said. “You think, when are you going to see him again? Your phone is attached to your hand. And when he does call, you think it might be the last time you ever hear his voice.”

Parker said in her email that nothing prepares a parent for their son or daughter being sent to another country for military action.

“Your child is trained for weeks prior to deployment. As a parent, you get nothing. You just can’t get yourself in a spot where you feel comfortable when your child is deployed.

“There was comfort in the fact that she was going in with the best training possible, and that God would watch over her, but that feeling of impending dread doesn’t leave until they are home again,” she wrote.

Knowing she and Parker were not the only military moms who felt that way, Ciambotti wrote the book after sharing her journal at a Christian writers round table. Although she had never written a book, she said the other writers offered guidance and encouraged her to share the lessons she learned with others.

Ciambotti said she takes no credit for the “Battles of the Heart,” which she calls “a training guide for military moms — to equip them to deal with the challenges of military life.”

“I was allowing God to steer me,” she said, noting that she was given more time to write when Jeff was transferred to Colorado in 2010, and she quit her job due to the move.

While she was there, she helped to organize a second Military Families Ministry in Strasburg, Colo., that is affiliated with Mountain View Fellowship Church,  and established a third one in Bellwood when she and Jeff moved into her family home there in 2013.

Ciambotti explained that while the first two chapters are affiliated with a church, Bellwood is communitywide because different churches in the borough support their efforts.

She said when she and Parker organized the first chapter, the idea was to partner with churches because communities usually have at least one church and most communities have people serving in the military. She said churches can reach out to military families when a loved one is deployed and can help a discharged service person adjust to civilian life. It also gives others in the community a better understanding of military life.

She admitted she has learned a lot she did not know and her difficult times were a growing experience.

Through it all, “God gave me a passion and burden for military families — to support the troops and their families,” she said.

She noted that Military Families Ministry’s mission statement is the Bible verse, I Peter 4:10 — “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Ciambotti said that gift to her was grace.

“The grace of God was extended to me during that time to allow me to extend the grace of God to others,” she said.

For more information on Military Families Ministry, visit its website at www

.militaryfamiliesministry.com or email Ciambotti at

tracie@militaryfamiliesministry.com.

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