By Anne Harding
'I felt let down, so I made it my mission to show civilians how to do better.'
—Benita Koeman, 43, Wahiawa, Hawaii
'The Dr. Seuss story Horton Hears a Who! is about a speck of dust on a flower on which there's an entire community in need of help—but the larger world isn't even aware of it. Military families are like that speck of dust. Our friends and neighbors didn't have a clue about our challenges. I started my website, Operation We Are Here, to help struggling military families and to let civilians know how they can help.
The idea for the website came after my husband, Scott, an Army chaplain, was sent overseas a second time. During the first deployment—right at the start of the Iraq war in 2003—I was eight months pregnant, and I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. Our family and church community rallied to help me then. So, naturally, when Scott departed for Qatar (then took frequent trips to Afghanistan) in 2005, I expected the same level of support. But few of the promises to baby-sit, make meals and do yard work ever materialized. As a mom to three at that point, I felt overwhelmed, isolated and, eventually, depressed. My kids really missed their dad and needed some extra love and attention, but I just didn't have anything left to give.
After Scott returned, it took me a long time to get over feeling abandoned. But I prayed a lot and spoke to other military wives who had experienced the same situation, and I came to realize two things: People in the community just didn't know what I was going through or how they could help. And instead of getting angry, I could help get the word out that families on the home front need support. Although I'm normally introverted, I felt like God was calling me to do something. I asked Scott for a weekend without the kids to finish up a website that would show civilians how to help families during deployment. That was four years ago, and I'm still running it. The site's scope and reach have grown, and now it is chock-full of resources for military families in all circumstances, as well as tips for civilians.
Scott's third deployment—to Afghanistan in 2009—was easier. I was working on the website, the kids were more independent and we lived in a tight-knit community of civilian and military families near Fort Lewis in Washington state. Neighbors would say, "Benita, don't you dare call a baby sitter," or they would fix the kids' bikes or run errands for me. And I learned some tricks to keep our family more connected during the long absence. The kids and I created the Brat Town Bugle to share news from home with Scott, so whenever something exciting happened, like our pet garter snake eating a frog, the kids wrote the story in the Bugle.
We have been at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa since the summer. We have no guarantee of how long we'll be here or when the next deployment is. That's a challenge of military life, and I have learned to accept it with a quiet heart. Whatever comes our way, with God at my side I won't weather it alone.'