Supporting the troops one at a time

PERKINS TWP. In it together. That's the motto of Stein Hospice's military support group. It's
May 24, 2010



In it together.  That's the motto of Stein Hospice's military support group. It's also the name of the group.

The support group formed in October under the leadership of Stein Hospice receptionist Robin Baum and the Rev. Charles Odums, who lost his son in Baghdad in 2004.

The support group reaches out to those in the community who have lost loved ones or have loved ones stationed overseas. With the most recent deployment of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 148 Infantry last month, members of the support group hope others will join them.

"No one's alone," said Shannon Lerro, a volunteer facilitator for Stein Hospice. "That's the best part."

About a dozen people attended Tuesday evening's meeting at American Legion Post 83. For a couple of hours the members were able to sit back, relax and talk with one another about their experiences.

"The group allows family members to empathize with one another over the unknown," said Stein Hospice Chaplain Jamie Stewart, who attended Tuesday's meeting and closed it with a prayer.

The group meets at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month. Most of the members are regulars. However, several new people arrived Tuesday to see what the group offered.

Angela Walton of Sandusky came with her son, mother and sister. Her brother, James Scally III, was deployed last month and will head to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"It's nice to know there are people going through the same stuff," Walton said. "I think it's great to meet new people. We all have a common denominator."

A card was passed around during the meeting to support Huron resident Chris McGraw, a staff sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division who was wounded when his unit encountered fire last month and left three soldiers dead. McGraw's mother, Katy McGraw, is also a member of the group.

"The Stein family has definitely felt for them," Chaplain Stewart said.

Bunny Smith, the administrative assistant for the Firelands Chapter of the American Red Cross, was invited to speak Tuesday at the support group meeting.

Smith explained the emergency communication service the organization offers in the event of an emergency, critical accident, illness or death in a service member's immediate family. Family members can contact the Red Cross, which is equipped to verify the situation and relay an emergency leave request, if necessary, to the proper military authorities.

Several members were glad Smith explained the services the Red Cross offers. Many were unaware of the services.

Bob and Kim Gentzel of Norwalk have attended the meetings since November. Their son, Eric Gentzel is a lieutenant in the Army. He was deployed to Iraq in October -- his first tour of duty.

"We haven't gone through anything like this before," Bob Gentzel said. "This helps us get through the experience and learn about what it's like. It holds everybody up."

The support group is open to anyone and everyone -- grandparents, parents, spouses or siblings.

Bryan Ohlemacher of Berlin Heights has two children who are members of the Air Force. Both are now back in the United States. His daughter, Erin Ohlemacher, is stationed at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis, Mo., and his son, Sean, is a recruiter for the Air Force in Columbus.

"I've been in their shoes," Ohlemacher said. "I'm here to support them. I can relate to the way they feel."

The support group doesn't end after the monthly meetings. Everyone keeps in contact through e-mail, and they arrange times to meet to make care packages to send overseas.

The group plans to meet again March 8 to create as many care packages as possible to send to the soldiers.

"It's a real good morale booster," Bob Gentzel said.

The military support group is seeking donations to fill care packages. Items sought include sealed foods, men's and women's toiletries, baby wipes, lip balm, lotion, hand sanitizer, books, magazines, powered Gatorade, DVDs or CDs. The group is also seeking monetary donations to cover the cost of postage and handling.

To donate items or money, contact Shannon Lerro at 419-625-5269.