Whether she is serving in the armed forces or is the parent of a child in uniform, a military mother spends every day balancing her love for her country with her devotion to her family. Some amazing nominations were submitted for the third annual All You America’s Most Inspiring Military Moms contest.
The Mom Away From Home
Lorna Kauinohea Souza, 53, Oahu, Hawaii
Nominated by her friend Rita Miller
When 17-year-old Keola Miller flew from his home on the island of Hawaii to Oahu, more than 200 miles away, to begin Air Force basic training in 2012, it was the first time he’d arrived at an airport without anybody to meet him, and things did not go smoothly. The hotel didn’t have his reservation, and he was too young to book a room on his own. Because all inter-island flights were done for the night, Keola couldn’t get home. Naturally, he called his mother, Rita, 40, a technical sergeant in the Hawaii Air National Guard (HIANG). “I tried to stay calm,” she says, “but inside I was freaking out.”
But Rita had an ace up her sleeve, the one person she could always count on: Lorna Souza, a friend and HIANG co-worker in Kaneohe. It was 9:30 p.m. when Lorna’s phone rang and the frazzled Rita explained the situation. Lorna immediately said she’d drive the 20 miles to pick up Keola and bring him back to her house for the night. “That’s Lorna for you,” Rita says. “She opens her door and her heart to everyone.”
For “Aunty Lorna,” as she’s known around the base, coming to the rescue is all in a day’s work. As the HIANG Airman and Family Readiness Program manager, she spends her days—and nights and the occasional holiday—fielding calls from service members looking for advice on just about any topic you can imagine. Some need help getting in shape for their physical or finding child care in their new hometown. Others are struggling to pay their bills or going through a divorce. “I consider the Hawaii Air National Guard my family,” she says. “Whenever I’m asked how many kids I have, I always answer ‘about 2,500.’”
Sometimes she gets calls from parents, such as the mother concerned that she couldn’t reach her daughter in basic training. (Recruits may not have cell phones, Lorna explained while assuring her the young woman was fine.) “I help with anything and everything, or I’ll find someone who can,” Lorna says. “A lot of times that’s all people want: someone to talk to and listen.”
Listening can be wrenching at times. Several years ago, a guard member was killed off-base in an explosion at an underground storage facility, and his family and unit members turned to Lorna to help them cope. “It can be a challenge not to absorb grief or sadness like a sponge,” she concedes.
Lorna knows well what it’s like to have a loved one in the military. Her husband, Stanley, spent 32 years in the service, and her three sons—Kalani, 29, and twins Payton and Preston, 27—are HIANG staff sergeants. “Trying to balance military life with everything else is tough,” she says.
Lorna had been managing a retail makeup counter when she began volunteering for HIANG’s family program in 1997, assisting with youth camps, team-building exercises and farewell ceremonies. It was a natural fit for Lorna, who grew up around a mother who was always caring for others. “My mother was the ohana, or heart, of our family,” she says. “She went out of her way to look out for everyone, even the neighbors’ kids.”
When Lorna’s supervisor left in 2005, she was offered the full-time position. “I knew I was going to be taking on a lot of responsibility,” she says, “but my husband and sons were so supportive that I went for it.” Her office is filled with board games and toy cars for kids, cozy blankets and dozens of photos of families she has helped over the years. “I want people to walk in here and feel comfortable,” she says. “Whatever the issue, they can tell me, and once they do, it’s never as bad as they think.” Not when Aunty Lorna is on the case.