January 20, 2012
By Jim Dresbach
When a military spouse, family member loved one is deployed, a Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall-support group known as Hearts Apart is on call to comfort the difficulty of separation from a loved one and the frightening fear of the unknown.
Like their male spouses or significant others who represent all services, the women involved in Hearts Apart are quick to support, defend and respond. A few tears may well in the corner of an eye at a meeting, but a tissue, handkerchief or a shoulder to cry on are always promptly available.
Understanding ears also listen to sincere concerns, and a smile and a hand to hold are also welcome displays of affection to those carrying too much emotion.
The Hearts Apart group currently has a home every second Thursday of the month at the Arlington American Legion Post on Washington Blvd. Rene' Fizer, Army Community Service relocation program manager, initially founded a Hearts Apart group in 2002 while working at Fort Belvoir.
"Initially, it was started when I encountered a spouse whose husband was in Korea," Fizer remembered about the early history of Hearts Apart. "She had three small kids and her car broke down. She had no support and no idea where to go or what to do. We started working with her, and she said it would be really great to meet other spouses." When Fizer departed Fort Belvoir, the number of participants had grown to 21.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, a dozen ladies -- and close to 20 children -- united for one of Hearts Apart's quarterly alumni nights where first- timers can find comforting voices in seasoned, veteran spouses. During the informal get together, two of the main goals are relaxation and to have fun. Children make home-made greeting cards always planned well in advance to coincide with an upcoming holiday or season. The past meeting had children pouring their artistry onto paper to create valentines cards which were shipped to deployed dads. A potluck dinner is available and the kids are encouraged to play Simon Says or other games.
While the kids are entertained, mothers, wives and girlfriends talk, listen and console.
"This group is wonderful," said alumna Brenda Stone, who participated in 2011 while her Marine Corps reservist husband was in Afghanistan for a seven-month deployment. "It is a total lifeline to come here once a month. They [the support group] have a number of [alumni] women and Families who have been invited back two or three times a year. We know what they are going through. It is difficult, and in this area, it is more difficult because deployments aren't tied to a base. When you are deployed from around here, you're flying solo."
But those attending a Hearts Apart meeting know that they are not on a solo mission. Manassas resident Felecia Pickett is a military novice, but the mother of Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Pickett is now a Hearts Apart veteran.
"This is my third time [at Hearts Apart]. I enjoy meeting the women because I know nothing about the military," Pickett said. "This deployment, even though he has been in the Navy for two years, has educated me about the military, about their language and the things they do. This is a very close group of individuals who care about each other. It is like a Family; this is a good Family -- an old fashioned kind of Family. Everybody is looking after everybody, and everybody is concerned. They are there for each other."
The inclusion of girlfriends and fiancées into the Hearts Apart fold is now the norm. Christina Hoffman's boyfriend, Marine Lt. John Walaski, is seeing his second tour in Afghanistan, but this is Christina's first deployment experience. She found Hearts Apart, and the group assists when her emotions may become blue.
"It has been hard to have him gone. I think this really helps because I don't have a lot of friends who have deployed who know what [deploying] is like," Hoffman said. "When you're trying to handle it on your own, you hear things like 'He'll be fine' or 'Did you hear about what happened in Afghanistan today?' Those people all mean well, and my friends want to be there for me. Here, you get people to talk to who know what you're going through. When you kind of feel like you're going crazy, you realize it is the same thing everyone is feeling."
Kelsey Morgenthaler will be marrying her Marine 2nd Lt. fiancé in July. Currently, her husband-to-be is at Camp Pendleton training for a future deployment. She has taken advantage of the Hearts Apart group in advance of her future mate's overseas duty, and she knows what the group is all about.
"The point of the group is your heart is apart from the person you love," Morgenthaler said. "I try not to think about it [the deployment], but I know it is going to happen. It is so nice to be close to a military base and people who went through what I'm currently going through. I've found out it is perfectly normal to go days without talking to [my fiancé] or even weeks when they're out in the field."
Hearts Apart alumna Beatrice Frey is one of the ladies Kelsey can rely on for advice. Frey, the mother of three, including two-month-old Natalie, was a Hearts Apart group member throughout the past year.
"My husband was gone pretty much all of 2010. He left around Thanksgiving of 2009 and came back on Dec. 6 2010. I joined this group during that time period. It was great; it was a good support network to have. It was one night a month I didn't have to cook dinner," she said with a laugh.
For more information about Hearts Apart or attending an upcoming meeting, phone 703-696-0156 or contact Christianne Witten at 703-693-8906. All servicemember spouses or significant others -- male or female -- are encouraged to attend.