Living in Whoville?
Published: March 27, 2012
Living in a civilian community during deployment, Army wife Benita Koeman said she felt like a citizen of Who-ville, wanting desperately to be heard by an oblivious outside world.
In “Horton Hears a Who,” by Dr. Seuss, the Whos are finally heard when they band together to make noise and shout, “We are here!”
The story was part of Benita’s inspiration to create “Operation We Are Here: Encouraging the Military Home Front,” an extensive online clearinghouse of support and information for military families and the civilian communities who support them.
Her own experiences were the rest of the inspiration.
Benita’s husband’s first deployment coincided with his call from the Army Reserves to active duty in 2003. With a toddler, a preschooler and a baby on the way, Benita chose to stay in their civilian hometown, rather than move to a new assignment just weeks before her husband’s departure.
“The first deployment was difficult — having a baby while he was gone, the uncertainty of the war at that time,” Benita said, but added that the support of the community carried her through. “I just felt I wasn’t alone,” she said.
Fast-forward to 2005. When her husband was deployed again — this time for a year — Benita and the children went home again.
“I can handle this. It’s my second time; I know what to expect. I thought I had my support system in place,” she said. But soon that system fell apart.
Promises of help with snow shoveling and yard work went unfulfilled. Dinner invitations evaporated. People at church were friendly, but busy with their own lives.
“I’ve never felt so alone,” said Benita. “No one really understood how I was struggling at home taking care of these three little kids. I really can’t capture how painful that was … but if this was about me venting about a bad deployment experience, I wouldn’t be here.”
For the next year, Benita said she wondered about that difficult experience. Her faith led her to pray about what she had learned from it. A comment from another military wife brought things into focus.
“Someone told me she stopped going to church because her church did not support her during a deployment, and I thought ‘You mean it’s not just me?’” Benita recalled.
“When I realized it was not just about me, I knew someone had to do something about this,” she said.
“I knew (the civilian community) cared about us and they loved us, but they didn’t have a clue how hard it was for me on the home front; they had no idea where to begin to support someone like myself.”
Her mission was to inform communities about helpful ways to reach out and follow through on commitments to military families. Her research uncovered many grassroots organizations that provide services for military families, so she began compiling those as well.
With no experience in website construction, Benita taught herself the basics and began building, painstakingly collecting and vetting all her sources of information.
The result is an attractive, easy to navigate site, an extensive catalog of resources, connections and information, helpful to both military families and those who want to reach out to them.
One resource, which Benita also created, is the "Brat Town Bugle," free downloadable templates for military children to create a newspaper about their lives and activities for a deployed parent or faraway relatives. Benita explained that this helps younger kids, particularly those who aren't communicative on the phone, to tell a parent or grandparent about their daily lives.
Another page lists helpful things to do for and say to military families, particularly during a deployment. Things like: Make a meal; Babysit; Ask “How are you doing?” and be prepared to hear the truth.
There is also a list of what not to say, contributed by military spouses from their own experiences, like these gems:
- I understand. My husband goes on lots of business trips.
- You knew what you were getting into when you married him.
- Have faith! Be positive!
- I could never leave my wife for that long.
The Operation We Are Here site has no advertisers. It provides information and connections, pure and simple.
“Somebody had to speak up for the home front, to let people know that families need support,” said Benita, now stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
“This is our world here. We have our own community, but we certainly need the broader community to walk alongside us.”