By ROB W. ANDERSON
As the men and women who fight and die for the protection and security of the U.S. remain a focus of attention during commemorations, the families they leave behind need to be remembered for their own commitment to the cause.
November is Military Family Appreciation Month, and it was established in 1993 by the Armed Services YMCA – under the auspices of the U.S. government – to celebrate military families and the sacrifice they share in serving and protecting the nation.
Cherokee County Veterans Council sponsors many events that focus on honoring the nation’s military men and women, but always include the soldiers’ families in the moment. A dove tree to provide Christmas wish-list items is currently on display in the BancFirst location at 1204 E. Ross St., said CCVC President Becky Wolfe.
“It’s doves rather than angels, and each dove has a listing of what the veteran has asked for. There are three or four items the person can select from or they can buy them all, as we hope they would be able to do, depending on what they could afford,” Wolfe said. “It was set up just about a week ago, and there were about 30 doves. There are around 10 now, so we’re doing really well.”
The items purchased need to be returned to BancFirst by Friday, Dec. 14, said Billie Walker, CCVC secretary and Blue Star Mothers president.
“I want people to bring the items back to the bank, and if they’re unwrapped, I’ll wrap them. I’ll pick all the items up on [Dec.] 15,” she said.
The reason for the use of “doves” rather than angels was to increase awareness of the veterans who may be living in rural areas and are unable to interact with the community, Walker said.
“There are veterans who live around Tahlequah who are homebound. I just want people to know they’re out there,” she said. “The dove represents a program started by the Veterans Administration, mental health intensive case management.”
When the federal government realized veterans living in rural areas were not being served adequately, it developed the MHICM service, or dove program, to provide a connection of services offered by a VA facility in the soldier’s respective area, said Muskogee VA clinical social worker Audry Haldaman.
“We’ve got about 34 veterans [whom we see], and we’re traveling out as far as 70 miles. Many are homebound or require a lot support services,” she said. “We schedule two home visits a week. We do outings, provide transportation for shopping or social skill enhancement. It has really increased the quality of their life, giving them value and worth. It allows them to know they’re not hidden away. It’s just a wonderful program. I can’t say enough about the program.”
Walker said the Tahlequah Blue Star Mothers is working on Christmas boxes to be sent to troops overseas. She anticipates having the care packages postmarked by Monday, Dec. 10.
“If people have donations, they can contact me,” she said. “We’ll accept homemade cookies, but we have just about got it covered. The VA is going to be having a book and bake sale. I just delivered three boxes of books provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution. They always take stuff over there, and that’s to benefit the veterans in the hospital. That sale will be [Dec.] 7 or 8.”
Items needed most for the boxes include hand and foot warmers, but common items always needed are socks, T-shirts, toilet paper, wet wipes, size-large house shoes and other individual clothing or toiletry needs, said Walker.