UNION TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Watching her son leave for Iraq on Mother's Day 2018 was "the hardest journey I've ever went through," Jerri Lowemeeks said. "I tell people I always wanted to be a mom; I never asked to be an Army mom."
She immediately sought strength from other military parents through 'Whole In My Heart', a local support group for family members of deployed soldiers. The group's mission statement is "Restoring Wholeness to Friends & Families of Military Loved Ones."
"It helped me get out of the house, for one," Lowemeeks said. "It helped get me around other people who knew what I was going through. Socializing here was a big thing instead of just sitting at home thinking because that thinking was the hardest part."
Noah Lowemeeks recently celebrated his welcome home gathering, which was hosted by 'Whole In My Heart.' Bob Proud started the group a decade ago.
"When they come here there's a room full of people who've already gone through it or are going through it, so there's a safe place for them," Proud said.
Wanda Leaman's son Brent is in the Army. His first deployment brought new experiences for her, like not hearing his voice for nine months. Brent is now on his second deployment, and Wanda said the group has helped her deal with his absence.
"You get the understanding that they've been through it, especially moms, and I'm sure it's the same for dads, but for moms." Leaman said. "There's a different bond with moms."
Dee Archer's oldest son served in the Marine Corps. He did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
"You feel like you’re the only one who’s experiencing this, but when I came here, I realized everyone is experiencing the same thing," Archer said.
Archer's youngest now serves in the Army National Guard. She counts the group as an essential part of her life.
"Between my church family and my own family and my military family, it's the only way I get through the deployments," Archer said.
For Army veteran Kevin Long, knowing the group was available to his parents while he was deployed meant he could focus on his mission.
"It helped my parents cope with it, and it helped give me a peace of mind to know somebody (was) looking after my parents while I was deployed," Long said.
A number of members of the 'Whole In My Heart' group no longer have loved ones in the service but remain active to help provide advice and past experience to those who are new to the group.