News can often hit hard when orders come down

By Linda T. Gracey

lgracey@altoonamirror.com

Remembering how different life became when their children joined the military, Tracie Ciambotti and Paula Parker, co-founders of Military Families Ministries, make an effort to reach out to other mothers as well as wives in military families.

One of those moms is Hope Riggleman of Altoona, whose son, Tom, was deployed to Iraq in October.

When learning of her son’s assignment, Riggleman said she put a plea on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of any support groups for military families. She said Ciambotti responded.

Having a loved one in the military is not new for Riggleman, whose husband was a generator mechanic for the Army in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. While he was gone, she drew support from other military families at Fort Hood, where her husband was stationed.

It was also during their time at Fort Hood that Tom was born with medical issues and not expected to walk.

Twenty-seven years later, Riggleman said her son is giving back, because the medical personnel and treatments he received at Fort Hood made it possible for him to walk.

She said although she and Tom’s father support him 100 percent, it is still difficult.

“If something would happen to him, I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “My life is centered around him and his brother.”

Riggleman said getting through the holidays was rough but Ciambotti kept me “from losing my mind.”

As a new member of Military Families Ministries, Riggleman also helped to stuff stockings that were sent to deployed troops.

“It was hard for me, but it helped, knowing I was doing something to help our son and other soldiers over there,” she said.

Ciambotti said, “the holidays are the most difficult time (for family members).”

To let them know others are supporting them, Military Families Ministries sends prayer shawls to mothers and dish cloths to wives of deployed military personnel, inviting them to be part of the group.

She said it is comforting for the women to know they are not alone.

“We connect with moms all over the country,” said Ciambotti.

The co-founders as well as other members of the group use Facebook posts to reassure the women and tell them that they are praying for them.

“It’s a comfort to know that others are praying for you,” Ciambotti said.

Parker pointed out that Military Families Ministry helps families as a whole.

“Some programs are available for spouses and children but not the rest of the family,” Parker said in an email.

She said sometimes when a husband is deployed, the group is able to help the wife at home, too.

“That is huge,” she wrote. “He doesn’t have to worry knowing that we are watching out for her, and she is relieved to know that someone is sending her husband what he needs.”

Parker said often it is too expensive for families to keep up with these needs.

“We fill the gap,” she said.

The group also tries to boost morale.

“We once sent a flute to a woman who was struggling with family issues,” Parker said. “Music was a comfort to her. I’m sure the whole unit enjoyed the music.”

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