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Marine parents find own comrades online

Patricia Fry thought she and her husband, John, were prepared.

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=724201

Posted: March 3, 2008
Laurel Walker

Their only child, son Erich, had joined the Marines in 2004 while still at Menomonee Falls High School. He had been deeply moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and wanted to serve his country. He didn't leave for boot camp until he graduated a year later, on Father's Day 2005.

Yet during his first deployment to Iraq, she found she wasn't anywhere near as prepared as she thought she'd be.

"I was really worried, and I was going nuts," said Fry, a seventh-grade English and reading teacher at Templeton Middle School in Lisbon.

She was desperate for any information but didn't know where to turn.

"The longer Erich was deployed, and the longer I didn't know anything, and when the phone calls got fewer and far between, I had to find someone to talk to."

At times like these, the rest of us try to be reassuring. She says unless we've been in those shoes, we can't possibly understand.

Fortunately, she found someone who did.

Her husband stumbled upon an Internet resource called MarineParents.com and told her to check it out. It included information about serving in the Marines, but perhaps more importantly, it offered message boards and chat rooms where Fry could ask questions of people who'd felt what she was feeling.

"I got hooked," she said. Once she figured out the chat room technology, and after the couple replaced its slow-as-molasses dial-up Internet service, she increasingly relied on the support system.

"The people who welcomed me answered all the questions I had, and they really helped set aside my fears," she said.

Now, two years later, she has become a bedrock of support for others who turn to the Web site.

Because she was spending so much time sharing experiences and information, the nonprofit organization asked her to serve as a chat room moderator to answer others' questions. She spends about two hours a night, every day but Saturday, in various chats at MarineParents.com.

"And I do this because it helps me," she said.

In 2006 she spent more than 200 hours moderating chats. Last year the figure was over 400 hours. Already this year, she's spent more than 100 hours in any one of seven different chat rooms - including ones providing information and encouragement for families of new recruits, or those in boot camp, or those deployed. There are chats just for wives and girlfriends, others just for dads.

There is one common thread in all of them.

"We all love a Marine," she said. "We all love and support our Marines, and we all need help in dealing with their absences, or trying to deal with insensitivities of other people."

The site, based in Missouri, was founded by Marine parent Tracy Della Vecchia in January 2003. It relies on volunteers throughout the U.S. and is open to the public. It offers lots of opportunities to support Marines, from donating Girl Scout cookies for care packages to sending letters and prayers for injured Marines.

It offers experience and information on everything from what someone should wear to a Marine's boot camp graduation (comfortable shoes, yes, but clothes showing a bare midriff, no), to how to reach a unit's family resource officer, to what to expect after a Marine comes home from combat.

It even helps parents put together scrapbooks of their Marine's experiences - something Fry specializes in as the site's historian.

On one recent message board exchange at the site, parents John and Yvonne said they were nervous wrecks about their son's impending departure for boot camp. They received a number of encouraging responses, including this one:

as you and your recruit go through the phases of boot camp, you will worry, you will cry, you'll think the di's (drill instructor) the devil himself, but believe me, the pure pride you will see on your son's face on his graduation day will wash all those feelings away! he will become one of the best! stick with this message board, come here often, you'll find friends who will cry with you, pat you on the back, laugh with you or just listen when you have something heavy on your heart.

Patricia Fry said Erich, 21 and a lance corporal, is now in his second deployment in Iraq, though his regiment is due back to his permanent station, Twentynine Palms in the California desert, in a couple of weeks.

He has another year of active duty, and she said he expects he'll have to return to the Middle East again.

So she'll continue to rely on MarineParents.com for support, and she'll continue to offer hers.

"The one question I get more than any other is, 'How do you handle this? You seem so strong.' "

She says she takes it one day, and one chat, at a time.

"If I didn't have the Web site, I wouldn't have made it," she said.

On the Web www.marineparents.com Call Laurel Walker at (262) 650-3183 or e-mail