Sandra Saisa of Long Island is a Marine mom. She’s also a member of 13 separate Facebook support groups, all specific to being a military parent. That’s a lot of support.
The reason it’s so many is that Saisa joined one for each phase of her son’s career. At first, she joined one for boot camp, then when he moved on to combat training, she joined a group for that, and then she joined a Naval Air Station Pensacola group when he was there. Each move for him was a new group for her.
She stayed in the previous groups to answer questions for the newbies.
Tami Bixler, an administrator for Semper Fi Parents, joined about 40 Facebook support groups — all for the Marines — after her only child volunteered four years ago. Eventually she found it too time consuming and has since pared it down to about seven.
There are Facebook support groups for every branch of the military plus one for each base and that’s just for starters. Bixler estimates there are literally thousands of these groups.
One of the more fun things to do for members of the Semper Fi Parents group is to play their own version of “Where’s Waldo?”
Marines are notorious for not wanting their pictures taken, so when a photo of a large group of them gets posted, parents try to find their child in it. It’s difficult because the photos often include a massive number of people who are all wearing the same uniforms and have the same haircuts. (Saisa found her son, Jonathon, four times.)
Parents also post photos from promotions, giving them an opportunity to show how proud they are of their children.
But it’s really the camaraderie that makes these groups successful.
When Bixler traveled from Nevada to San Diego for her son’s graduation from boot camp, she was already “virtual” friends with several other Marine moms.
They went to dinners together and Bixler didn’t even have to rent a car because someone from the group would pick her up from her hotel.
“Otherwise I would have been completely by myself, in San Diego, not knowing anybody and feeling a little apprehensive about things,” she said.
When Sherry McMullen Namcek’s son shipped off to Parris Island from Mississippi, she felt he no longer belonged to her, that he belonged to the Marines now. It was then she joined the Parris Island’s Amazing Parents and Families group, followed by another one specifically for her son’s graduation date.
“The groups were my lifeline when my son was in,” she said. “I was green to it all; I didn’t know what I was doing.”
And that’s pretty much the whole purpose of the Parris Island group. Since day 12 of boot camp this month is essentially going to be the same as day 12 next year, the administrators and moderators can walk the members through the entire 13 weeks, day by day.
Additionally, administrator Lynn Hayes has direct contacts on Parris Island who give her up-to-date, accurate information (should there be any variations to the execution matrix) which she can pass on to the members of the group.
Hayes treats her unpaid, administrative duties as a full-time job, sometimes working at three AM, so members can start their day with new information from the current matrix.
Over the seven years since the group’s inception, Hayes has helped so many members that they affectionately call her, “Momma Lynn.”
Even though basic training is 13 weeks, members of the group stay on indefinitely because they feel a part of a family.
“Our slogan is “Semper Familiae”, which means always family,” said Hayes.
The Parris Island group has 43,600 members, one Air Force support group has 30,400 members and another has 23,500. While these groups are listed as “visible,” meaning anyone can find them, prospective members need to be approved before joining.
Since just about any information about the military can be considered classified, Bixler is pretty vigilant in vetting applicants. She’s denied membership to people who appear to have phony Facebook profiles and to those who have no real connection to the military.
The groups are also “closed,” meaning only vetted members can view their contents.
Hayes sees the Parris Island group and a shared achievement. “I’m proud of the work that we do. It’s not just me; it’s a team effort,” she said.
“And it takes every one of us blood, sweat and tears… we haven’t bled maybe but sweating and tears, you bet!” she said.
As anyone with a loved one in the military knows, there is indeed a lot of blood, sweat and tears but there are endless Facebook support groups to help alleviate all three.Read comments