Organizations spring up in response to events

Karen Carly with Operation Interdependence has an oversized chess set similar to the ones they send overseas to military units. This one was signed in several places by rock Jam participants.

Since the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a network of organizations sprung up across the nation and in the Grand Valley to support what has been a military response stretching out over years.

One of the first of those organizations, Homefront Heroes, lasted but a short time, but a series of others have taken hold over the years since the attacks.

One of them, the Grand Junction chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, last year hosted the national convention of the congressionally chartered organization that recognizes the mothers of people serving in the military.

The Grand Valley also is home to an active chapter of Operation Interdependence and is the base for Military Families Of America.

“I wish I didn’t have to work, so I could do this 24 hours a day,” said Julie Dominguez, president of Military Families of America, which she runs from her Palisade home.

Dominguez started Military Families of America in April 2009, sparked in part by her family’s participation in the military. Dominguez arranges for care packages and letters to be sent overseas. She greets returning service members and offers support to the families of the fallen.

For Dominguez, it’s a labor of love.

“I’ve always done community work,” she said, but her commitment is all the deeper because of her son, Justin Andrew Aysse, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Marine Corps and now is safely home.

Military Families of America is but one of many organizations dedicated to helping service people and their families.

Blue Star Mothers of America could expand significantly if legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is approved. The legislation picks up on a proposal that emerged from the Grand Junction convention asking that Blue Star Mothers include grandmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, stepmothers, or women who served as a legal guardians at any time during a service member’s life. It also would recognize Blue Star Mothers who don’t live in the United States.

Similar efforts to expand the Blue Star Mothers gained no traction until the Grand Junction convention, said Wendy Hoffman, president of the Grand Valley Chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America.

The Sept. 11 attacks and the American military response, which continues today, focused new interest in the Blue Star Mothers, which date back to World War II.

The number of Blue Star Mother chapters was about 300 in 2001. It’s now about 11,000, Hoffman said.

The roots of her interest in the Blue Star Mothers date directly to the Sept. 11 attacks. She and her son, Dallas Hanson, then 17, were in British Columbia. Dallas told her he wanted to move to the United States and enlist.

“Mom, I want to be right out there on the front lines,” Hoffman said her son told her.

Two tours of Iraq later, Hanson is back home and a member of the Colorado National Guard, she said.

Operation Interdependence, called OI by its members because it’s much easier to say, works to make sure service people around the world know they’re remembered.

Karon Carley, president of the Grand Valley chapter, had long been writing notes to service people and became more involved after the attacks.

“We are 100 percent volunteer, we have no salaries, and we have to have everything donated to us,” Carley said.

“Anybody who wants to can help” with the packing, she said.

Volunteers who pack care packages include notes to the service people for which they are intended.

Operation Interdependence might be unique in that it sends out oversized chess sets to military units far and wide. Many of the pieces are signed by people at home, such as those on the set that was available at Rock Jam last month, she said.

“We hear back quite often” from the people to whom OI sends out packages, Carley said. Often the response comes in the form of email, sometimes U.S. mail and the occasional certificate of appreciation. Operation Interdependence keeps all of the responses in a scrapbook.

“It’s nice that they feel that way,” Carley said, “but it’s we who appreciate them.”


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