Group formed to help soldiers and families

WILLMAR -- While many of our nation's troops are off fighting a war overseas, a group of moms, spouses and siblings have taken up their own battle on the home front.

WILLMAR -- While many of our nation's troops are off fighting a war overseas, a group of moms, spouses and siblings have taken up their own battle on the home front.

With assistance from the Willmar Minnesota National Guard unit, a local family readiness group has been established. The group is based with Willmar's National Guard unit, but soldiers and families come from all over the state. "We've got soldiers that come up from Minneapolis," said Kammy Nelson of Willmar, one of the group's co-leaders.

The group has already assembled some 25 care packages for soldiers deployed from the Willmar unit and the group is ready to host a Christmas party for 400-plus military members and their family members Sunday.

Nelson said the American Legion is helping put together a meal for which Jennie-O Turkey Store donated 24 pre-cooked turkeys. Along with the meal, families will be able to participate in "vidi talks," recorded messages that will be sent to soldiers overseas via e-mail. The family readiness group is also hosting a silent auction to raise money for future events.

"This is kind of our first really public thing," Nelson said.


Nelson's son is scheduled to be deployed through the Minnesota National Guard sometime next year. Although much of the support has been directed at National Guard soldiers, Nelson said the group is for anyone with military ties.

"I just really want to be a support to our military," she said. "It's the family support too."

Capt. Brian Nutter, commander of one of the National Guard companies based out of Willmar, said it is his job to make sure a family readiness group is in place and to encourage support from families.

Although his support options are limited, Nutter said he can provide training for some of the group's members and provide them with basic startup money and liaison soldiers.

"Otherwise I try not to have much input," he said.

The soldiers sit in on the group's meetings to provide support, answer questions and act as a liaison between the military and the group. The family readiness group in Willmar has settled into a core group of five community members at this point, with four soldiers provided by Nutter.

Despite the group's size, they have already made a splash in aiding military personnel and families. "It's fairly successful," Nutter said about the group.

Which is good, considering "it's not really off the ground yet," said group co-leader Trudie Guptill of New London.


Guptill said the group has struggled over the past year to establish a core of leaders to get things rolling. Now three women, Guptill, Nelson and Jenny Boettger of Sleepy Eye, have taken charge in establishing the group. But the group is always open to new members.

Sunday's Christmas party for nearly 200 soldiers and their families will get the group off and running. Guptill said the group will meet again later in December to begin planning the next step.

As for now, Guptill said the focus remains on caring for deployed soldiers, preparing families for tough farewells and helping them with whatever they need.

"We're not just there for the soldiers," she said. "We're there for the families too."

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