HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, GA -- A 3rd Combat Aviation Soldier, Spc. Xavier Mojica, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, is getting some much-needed modifications to his Family van, including a ramp and hydraulic lift that makes transportation a lot easier for his 13-year-old son, Xavier Mojica, who has muscular dystrophy and is partially paralyzed.

The teen's mom, Jessanhmarie Ortiz, said it's increasingly difficult to lift the growing teen from his wheelchair into the van without assistance. His dad usually does the lifting. When his father is away, the junior Xavier is mostly housebound, especially during deployments.

But recently, Xavier's mobility has begun to improve drastically, thanks to advocates at the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Exceptional Family Member Program and generous donations from friends, including $6,000 from The Landings' Military Family Relief Fund; $2,500 from AMS Vans, Inc.; a $2,740 grant from Army Emergency Relief, in addition to an interest-free loan.

Monica Battle, Hunter Army Community Service director, said the goal of her agency is to educate all Soldiers about ACS services and to set them up for success before they have an emergency. One little-known service also used by the Family is the foreign-born spouse program that helps spouses when English is their second language.

Prior knowledge and membership into the EFMP is what helped the Mojica Family at Hunter as problems began to surface for their son. When Spc. Mojica came to Hunter two years ago, he heard about the program during ACS orientation and immediately signed up.

"We are so grateful for this money and for help from EFMP," said Spc. Mojica, joking that he's become a spokesman for ACS services. "I've talked to Soldiers who have been here six to eight years and say they've never heard of this program."

Battle said Soldiers who attend ACS orientation get information about all ACS services but the information is best passed to Soldiers by their commanders to whom Soldiers listen when they encourage them to reach out for help if they need it.

"Unfortunately, there's an unspoken myth that a Soldier's career could be hindered by requests for additional assistance for their special needs child or anything else," said Jenny Walker, the EFMP systems navigator, who assisted the Family.

"But that's not true. This is a positive program that helps a Soldier's career because it frees him to focus on his Army mission and not worry about his Family."

The EFMP has helped facilitate a wide-range of support to the Mojica Family.

In addition to van modifications, they coordinated assistance from the LMFRF a year ago that enabled the Family to install a wheelchair handicap-accessible shower in their home for Xavier, along with part-time nursing services for his care.

When Walker heard that private companies had quoted Jessanhmarie Ortiz exorbitantly high costs for van modifications, she contacted AMS Vans, Inc., and got them at a much lower cost, along with a monetary donation to pay for rental services while the Family used a temporary van with wheelchair capabilities.

"Language can be a huge barrier," Walker said, "especially when spouses don't learn about services first-hand. Also, they're often reluctant to come forward for help since they don't want to be a problem."

Walker said awareness of the EFMP program has increased over the years. As of 2016, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield has enrolled 2,500 Soldiers. The staff advocates for the rights of children with special needs and the legal responsibilities of medical, educational, and other agencies who serve them.

"We make sure they don't get taken advantage of and give their rights away," she said. "Sometimes a new diagnosis can be overwhelming and frustrating for parents. They may not realize the child's future needs or how laws and rules that affect them can change state-to-state."
Battle said she believes in the competency and the compassion of her staff, as well as their determination to help Families who would otherwise 'just get lost in the shuffle.' "You would pay a fortune for advocate services in the civilian community.

"We especially appreciate benefactors from the civilian sector, like the Landings' LMFRF, which is always there to help. The Landings residents don't hesitate to put their money where their mouth is."

In January 2016, after eight years in existence, the LMFRF had raised $1,334,962 from residents within The Landings' gates, according to Lou Molella, a Landings resident who helped spearhead The Landings Military Relief Fund in 2007 and served on the 12-member board of directors. As of January, the fund has dispersed $807,689 of that money.

More than 4,055 military individuals have been vetted and received grants through the American Red Cross after a case-by-case eligibility review. Approximately 9,000 military Family members have benefited from the donations.

If you need information about Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield ACS, call 912-767-5058 at Fort Stewart or 912-315-6816 at Hunter.