Windsor resident Ben Hendricks is a full-time student at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. He is also a Marine. Initially, he joined the Marine Corps in 2001, just after he graduated high school and prior to Sept. 11, 2001. He was subsequently deployed twice to Iraq, and when his first enlistment was through, he bought a home in Windsor, married his sweetheart, Anna, enrolled at WNEC, and then decided he missed the Marines and joined the Marine Reserve.
On May 1, his unit, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment of Fort Devens, MA was activated, meaning that the "Weekend Warriors" were being called to duty full time. Thurs., May 5, they were deployed to California for three to four months of training before the unit is sent overseas to Afghanistan.They should return to Ft. Devens in the early summer of 2012. All of these Marines are volunteers and most of them, like Ben, have jobs, school and families they are leaving behind.
Thursday morning, the families and friends of the 1/25 were invited to Family Day at the base to spend time with their Marines before they flew out to California. Each unit usually hosts an annual Family Day Picnic to thank friends and family for supporting their military careers. There is always food and activities for the children, and since it is outdoors, scheduled for warm weather. Although the calendar said May, the weather on Thursday was more like March.
Most Marines had a little posse of people that moved with them — some just days old and others old enough to remember serving in World War II. Children were surrounded by a forest of legs while wives, parents and grandparents proudly stood by, making small talk that hid their concerns and belied what they wanted to say: "I'll miss you. Be safe. Come home."
The few Marines that were on their own were busy setting up chairs for the Marine Corps League and other guests, working the bouncy gym for the kids, and serving food in the mess tent.
At 9:30 all the Marines and their guests crowded into the parade deck to hear speakers give short hellos and thanks, and to explain that the Marines here have trained for this mission, they have volunteered to serve and are called to do so. Family Readiness Officer Danielle Sabourin noted, "They are excited to go, but not excited to leave."
Other speakers reminded the families and friends that they are part of the Marines too, and encouraged them to reach out for help when they need it for themselves or their children. Military OneSource calls itself the "concierge of the military" working with families to solve a myriad of deployment challenges.
After the speeches, the health and welfare teams [wo-]manned their booths to immediately offer support to the families. One table was stocked with small, stuffed animals and soft blankets for the kids who may be lonesome tonight.
At another booth, a mother stopped to ask Amy-Jayne McCabe of Military OneSource how she should respond to her 10 year old son who is worried that Dad might not make it back. McCabe took her hand and said,"Tell him that 99% of the guys do come back."
On the lighter side, McCabe has also arranged for pet care for deployed Marines whose parents may love them, but not their dogs.
By 12:30 the packs were loaded into the buses to take the Marines to their flight. The rules about public displays of affection were relaxed as the Marines kissed their wives, squeezed their kids, hugged their parents and then went off to do their new day job.
As the buses rolled off the base, the Marines could see two bright yellow hand made banners that said: "God Bless the USA And The 1 - 25." Semper Fi.
The author is the proud Marine Mom of SSgt. Ben Hendricks.Ooh-Rah!