As America's conflicts in the middle east wind down, efforts to support the troops overseas are as well. The Hamilton County Military Family Support Group is disbanding as the number of local families with active military personnel has dropped, according to member Carol Zills.
She said about 50 Hamilton County families now have ties to active soldiers, down from about 140 during the highest levels of troop deployment. This ending is not a sad one for Zills, who said the group longed for the day they would have to disband.
"At the very beginning, we'd go around and give speeches to different groups. One of the lines we used was that we always hoped there would be a time when we weren't needed anymore," Zills said. "We basically feel like that time has come, because there's still a lot of people in the guard and reserves, but not as many are actively deployed."
The support group consisted of about 50 active members at a time, according to Zills, who said people drifted in and out of the group as soldiers close to them were deployed and returned. The group never had any officers, but Zills said many people worked together to make the group successful.
When the group began, it was mostly for communication. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Zills said there was confusion as the guard and reserves were called to duty. Family and friends of members of the military came and exchanged information about deployments.
It also became a place for people to voice personal concerns about their loved ones overseas. Family members or friends might go six weeks without hearing from a soldier. Zills said it was comforting to talk to other people in the same situation. She said the surge of troops to Iraq in 2007 was difficult for the group, as many people planning on seeing the return of soldiers in a matter of weeks found themselves having to wait months instead.
Zills became active in the group because her son is career military in the Army. The first few years, the group met in downstairs in First Baptist Church in Webster City. The group also met at the homes of members and later met at Zills' office in the Youth and Family Center.
The group also participated in parades across Hamilton County. They contacted the American Legion Post 191 in Webster City to participate in a Memorial Day parade. From there, they also began to participate in six to seven parades across Hamilton County annually. Zills said it became a joke amongst the members at how quickly they could prepare for a parade. For six years, the group has stopped on the Boulevard of Honor in Webster City on Memorial Day to pay tribute to the soldiers they were waiting to return to Hamilton County.
The Legion Auxiliary will take over the group's mailing lists for soldiers. The support group sent packages to soldiers from the county a few times a year for about nine years. That included Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as April Fools Day packages that contained military jokes and cartoons.
She said the group has run its course, but they will continue to support active military members and veterans. However, it's hard to do that as attention towards the war in Afghanistan wanes.
"When the war is winding down, when it is no long in the public's view like it is now, it's harder and harder to get support," Zills said. "You get so pumped up when you do a parade and you see the people really appreciating the military and it makes you feel really good. Then, you try and get together to do something and there's just a handful of people willing to put the time and effort into it."
While the response has simmered as of late, Zills was very thankful for all the support they have received over the years. She said responses were very positive and many people contributed to the group. She said she hopes the public knows how much she and the support group have appreciated their help.