When Patti Bitting said goodbye to her daughter, Robin, when she left to serve in the U.S. Navy two years ago, she didn’t realize how hard it was going to be, how much she would miss her and how proud she would be to be a mother of a service member.
Bitting, much like many other parents of military men and women, didn’t know what to expect until the time came. About a year and a half after her daughter joined, Bitting was invited to a meeting of the Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County by a coworker at Los Lunas High School, Debra Selisky, president of the local, nonprofit organization.
“It’s wonderful to know there’s an organization that supports the families of military people,” Bitting said. “It’s hard when you have a child in the military, and it’s not until then that we can understand what it means to serve your country.
“These are people who I now have friendships with, who understand what I’m going through and how I feel being a mother of a child in the military.”
Bitting, who is the treasurer of BSMVC, has personally benefited from the organization with the camaraderie, support and friendships from the other mothers.
“When your child is deployed, they’ll help you understand what your child is going through, and what you’re going through at the same time,” she said. “They are able to give you that support.”
Being involved in BSMVC also gives Bitting a purpose that she would otherwise not have, she said.
“We are doing something that is helping our children and someone else’s child,” Bitting said of the organization. “We send packages to the troops and let them know they are not forgotten. It’s important that they have contacts from home.”
Care packages containing items including salsa and chips from home, chocolate for comfort and the well wishes from back home is sometimes just what our military members need as a pick-me-up. And the members of Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County are happy and willing to do it and what ever they can to provide.
Bitting said many organizations send care packages during the holidays, so BSMVC has decided to send them during other times of the year to let service men and women know they’re not forgotten. Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County members are hoping to send out about 200-300 care packages in January or February.
Blue Star Mothers of America began in 1942 during the Second World War when a group of 300 mothers of servicemen met together in Flint, Mich., and decided to establish a permanent organization. Since that time, Blue Star Mothers has expanded to include 211 chapters nationwide.
The name “Blue Star Mothers” is derived from the service flag that is displayed in the front windows of homes signifying that a son or daughter is serving. The blue star is covered with a gold star if the family member is killed or dies during the period of hostility.
Members of Blue Star Mothers are mothers, grandmothers, foster and adoptive mothers, stepmothers and legal guardians of sons and daughters who are currently serving or who have honorably served in the United States Armed Forces. Dads and other family members related to someone serving or who has served, are eligible to be an associate member.
Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County was organized in the summer of 2007 by a small group of mothers whose sons were fighting in Iraq. It is the third largest of the four chapters in the state of New Mexico.
Although one of their most important activities is to show their appreciation to America’s men and women stationed overseas by sending care packages and cards of encouragement, Blue Star Mothers Valencia County is providing an ever increasing support to our returning heroes by transitioning much of their assistance to veterans and wounded warriors.
They actively support the injured and Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Centers with both monetary donations and volunteer service. BSMVC has donated extensively to The Independence Fund, an organization that provides specialized track chairs to quadruple amputees, and they are ardent supporters of various veterans’ assistance organizations, such as The Fisher House Foundation, Paws and Stripes, Henderson House for Homeless Women Veterans, Run for the Wall and the Purple Heart Foundation. They also sponsor and participate in Wreaths Across America every December.
Whenever military men and women head overseas, Blue Star Mothers are there, and are there to shower them with love when they return.
BSMVC associate member, Betty Follett, said while she’s not a voting member of the organization, she’s more than willing to help anyway she can.
Follett taught overseas for 27 years for the U.S. Department of Defense schools, working three and a half years for the Navy, and the other 24 years for the Army in Germany.
“When I came back to the United States, I had no connection with the military,” Follett said. “It was killing me because it was my life working with the military guys. I was looking for someway to get involved.”
That’s when she found out Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County was forming. Follett was one of the local chapter’s first members and she’s been involved ever since.
There are many reasons why Follett volunteers her time and energy to the organization, but it’s the military folks overseas that tugs on her heart. She remembers while in Germany in 2004, she and her husband would spend Thanksgiving in the mess hall, and she would watch mothers and their children without their dads.
“I just wanted to cry because there they were, in a foreign country, and their husbands and fathers were deployed,” she said. “Watching them, and knowing what they were going through, has kept me involved. Nobody knows the loneliness and the stress that those guys go through being deployed.”
For Jeanine Chavez Eden, vice president of BSMVC and mother to a son in the Army, the local organization has helped her more than she initially thought it could. She said it’s her goal to help as much as she can as well as increase membership this year.
“If you come once a month and visit with ladies who understand military life, that’s what it’s about,” Eden said. “More than anything, we’re about friendships and forming relationships.”
Eden’s son, Patrick, had been studying to be an electrical engineer at New Mexico State University when he asked her for his medical records. A few months later, out of the blue, he told her he had joined the Army.
“When he joined, I were so scared for him, and I started looking for something to ease my mind, because I knew he was taken care of,” Eden said. “I don’t think I’ve slept since then.”
Eden, who had read something in the News-Bulletin about BSMVC, decided she’d check out the organization and what she could do to contribute.
“It’s about the camaraderie and support you can get from people who are going through the same thing you are — something you can’t get from anyone else,” she said. “It’s about having someone to talk to and to fellowship and do things that is meaningful for the kids overseas.”
For Bitting, Follett and Eden and the other members of Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County, it’s not enough that they’re there for one another, it’s their mission to be there for our troops and their families.