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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Helping Those At Home: American Legion Family Support Network

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, November 12, 2006

Kurt and Amy Christian and their two-year-old daughter Faith. Kurt Christian served with the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq.
View Slide Show
North Adams - Ask two-year-old Faith Christian if she's happy that her daddy is home and she may produce a dazzling smile and erupt with an enthusiastic "Yeah!"

Kurt Christian returned late last month from a year in Iraq. As part of the Pittsfield-based U.S. Army National Guard Bravo Company of the 181st Engineers, he was among the troops charged with shutting down the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. The work was difficult and risky, but it was a situation on home soil that caused extra worry for Christian.

Uh-Oh


State American Legion Family Support Network committee member Dennis St. Pierre was among those who assisted the Christian family while Kust Christian was stationed in Iraq.
Earlier this year, as an emergency leave concluded and Christian prepared a return to Iraq, he and his wife Amy noticed that the family's Richview Avenue home plumbing system wasn't up to par.

"The pipes and the drains were slow," Amy Christian said. "Nothing was going down. The day before [Kurt] was to leave, we arranged to have someone come and take the clog out."

Amy Christian is not a plumber but during the following day she suspected the problems probably involved more than a clog.

As the family prepared to drive Kurt Christian to the airport, she noticed water coming up through the driveway, she said.

Handling The Homefront

With her husband on his way back to Iraq, it was up to Amy to handle the situation. She consulted with a contractor about repairs and was given a quote of $4,000, she said.

And Amy Christian did not have $4,000 at her fingertips. So while her husband toiled in Iraq, Amy washed the family laundry -the couple have a seven-year-old son Brian- at her parents' home. Baths and showers were taken there as well. Toilet-flushing involved hauling water into the home. Dishes from meals were washed in a large stockpot, she said.

The situation was very challenging for a young mother with two small children and Amy Christian faced the additional burden of worry about her husband. When she was able to communicate with him, she felt comforted, she said.

But sometimes, communications were not possible.

"It was difficult," she said. "There were times when I didn't hear from him, and you hear all these things that are going on over there, and it scares you."

She contacted the American Red Cross and sought help with the plumbing problem. She said she was told that unless she received a city citation about the issue, the organization was unable to provide any assistance. But the agency was able to contact another entity, the American Legion Family Support Network.

And from that point forward, help was on the way.

Family Support Network

The state family network is led by Bill R. Barbour Jr. with committee members Dennis St. Pierre, John "Jake" Comer, and John Lenotte. St. Pierre is a past commander of the Frank R. Stiles American Legion Post 125. The entity was created in the days that preceded the 1991 Persian Gulf War to aid families of troops who found themselves in precarious situations as a result of the conflict.

"The name of the Family Support Network and development of the concept came during the early days of Desert Shield, which turned into Desert Storm and the Persian Gulf War," according to information posted at an American Legion Internet web site. "While the Reserves and the National Guard units activated were ready for the military mission before it, the military was not effectively prepared to deal with or support the thousands of families left behind during the mobilization. Paychecks were often lost, not forwarded to the family or simply not generated. This was especially true with the Reserve and the National Guard."

The network became inactive at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War but was reactivated after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Help is available to the families of troops called to duty by calling 1-800-504-4098.

"I Was Ecstatic"

St. Pierre was among those who provided help to Kurt and Amy Christian. Amy Christian was asked to acquire a second quote for repairs and that quote was $2,500. The A-1 Septic and Sewer Services firm agreed to tackle the repairs. The support network funded the work and company workers repaired the pipes and also repaired the driveway, which sustained some water damage and also had to be dug up during the work.

After about a month of hauling water and traveling to bathe, the family was able to use the water at home.

"[A-1 and the family support network] did all that and I was ecstatic when it was fixed," said Amy Christian. "It didn't cost me anything."

"Second Only To Veterans"

Support for families of those stationed away from home is an American Legion priority, said American Legion National Executive Committee member James Army.

"The families, the children and the youth are second only to the veterans," said Army during a Nov. 11 interview. "That's what the Legion does. Things come up and we are there to support our troops and their families."

In addition to financial assistance and help with major issues, the support network may offer assistance with every day issues such as lawn mowing, grocery shopping, child care, vehicle repairs, and similar chores.

The Legion intervention also eased the mind of Kurt Christian, who was thousands of miles away and unable to do anything to help his wife and children.

"Once I knew things were getting fixed, it was a big relief," he said. "I was also relieved to know that my family wasn't going to be into debt so deep that we couldn't get out. I appreciate everything that was done."

Christian plans to return to his job as a third shift stockman at a Curran Highway-based Wal-mart by year's end.

"I'm glad to be home and happy to be with my family," he said.

Additional information about state American Legion programs may be acquired at a www.masslegion.org Internet web site. Information about the national American Legion organization is available at a www.legion.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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