“Saundra Hunt has family all over the world. She is married with two children in the military, but through a support group she started, Hunt has gained thousands of family members. Hunt started the Friends & Families Connected Military Support Group after her daughter joined the Air Force at age17.””
Saundra Hunt has family all over the world.
She is married with two children in the military, but through a support group she started, Hunt has gained thousands of family members.
Hunt started the Friends & Families Connected Military Support Group after her daughter joined the Air Force at age17.
I went out and found Air Force families at the time, back in 1998, Hunt said. I always wanted to have a support group. I didn’t want to exclude any branch, so why not have a support group? So I started to do my homework.
Hunt visited recruiters from every branch of the military and laid down her plan.
They were on board with it. It was a good thing, Hunt said. They may not have the time to sit and talk to a parent, husband or wife, but they knew it was a place where they could tell people to go to have your questions answered.
When the group started, the war in Iraq had not yet started, but Hunt says the group’s mission has not changed.
The need itself has stayed the same. Going to war puts you in a different mindset and heartset, Hunt said. It doesn’t change what you’re doing because you still believe what you’re doing and why and the purpose is to being families together to give them strength and courage and upliftment.
When our loved one has gone to war, they not only change, but we change. We’re not the same person they left behind, Hunt said. They’ve grown. They’ve experienced things we’ve never experienced. We’ve grown in knowledge and understanding, but we’re still here to meet the needs of families stateside and abroad.
In the beginning
Starting a support group is not a new experience for Hunt. While her kids were in elementary school, she started the Portage Path support group.
One day I asked a mother if her child was in the Christmas program and she said she didn’t know, Hunt said. That stuck with me. How can you not know if your kindergartener is in the Christmas program? I thought, well, better start doing my homework again.
Hunt’s involvement with the community has been fueled by her children.
My kids are used to me being involved. They’ve always known that if I saw a need or something that needed to be done, I’d get out there and do it, Hunt said. It isn’t focused on them, although it came from them. They feel blessed. My son says ‘it’s alright that we share you, Momma.’ My daughter says ‘you know it all started with me Momma, right?’ and I say yes. They are proud and tell me to keep going.
The hardest thing to teach the families is to not expect the worst, Hunt says.
It can be overwhelming for the families. I tell them it’s going to be alright, Hunt said. Today is one more day closer to them coming home. You’d better believe that they love you and are thinking of home.
Hunt also reminds the families to try to keep things as normal as possible.
I tell the families to keep as much normalcy as possible. It helps them do their job and to know that of course you’re going to be concerned, Hunt said. Yes, you have to keep encouraging, but I do it with much joy and belief. I will not tell a family something that I don’t believe. We have the very best trained military, and the training does kick in.
Another important reminder Hunt instills in the families is that their loved ones in the ‘military laugh’.
God knows they are in a war, but they laugh, Hunt said. Of course their mindset is in alert at all times, but they’re people and they find things to laugh at and act silly. They do have fun.
Hunt not only helps families with loved ones already in the military, she also helps those who are thinking about enlisting.
When they approach me about wanting to go into the military, I encourage them to ask everything they want to ask. I let them know about basic training and boot camp, Hunt said. It’s real. They’re going to become a soldier, marine, airman or sailor. They’re going to become something and becoming something means you have to give something – something of yourself.
I tell them it’s honorable. It’s not something you can do because you can’t do anything else. It used to be said that you’d go into the military because you can’t do anything else. Not so. We have many wonderful, well – educated people going into the military. Ordinary people will do extraordinary things. I won’t sugarcoat. If I’ve heard of something that is a misunderstanding, I’ll tell them to go back and ask. I know a lot of the recruiters and I tell them to go back and get some clarity. This is a lifestyle that affects the entire family.
However Hunt’s commitment goes further than just a monthly meeting. She lets the families in the support group know they can call her whenever they need to.
I don’t put a time limit on when I can get a phone call, I always say I’m a phone call away, Hunt said. If they can’t reach me I’ll get back with them and if I don’t know something I’ll get back with them. I take it seriously and I won’t let a family be exploited.
Despite having thousands of family members that depend on her every week, she still manages to keep her cool.
I can’t be all over the place because they’d be all over the place if there was no one to follow. You have to keep your mind set on what it is you’re doing and I never lose sight of why I have the group, Hunt said. It’s not for fame or glory. If it was, I’d be rich.
Hunt also lets herself get emotionally attached to the families in the support group.
You have to be attached in order for it to be real. I don’t get overwhelmed, Hunt said. If I have no vested relationship with the families, they’d know. It would be just Saundra becoming a robot. I’m not a robot. They know they can talk to me.
We came together as a support group, but there are other things going on in their lives. I feel that involvement personally just like they have with me. I get the best of the best because they may not and they don’t share everything that they say with other family members. I’m attached to them and it’s a blessing because you have that connection. It’s a family. What does a family do? A family comes together.
The group holds monthly meetings where Hunt invites speakers to come and speak with the families.
I bring in people to speak who we can network with, Hunt said. We’ve brought in psychologists, service commissions, Red Cross and other organizations of that sort. I bring veterans in to talk about some benefits because we have some very young veterans. If it weren’t for these people, where would our young veterans be? It’s a lifestyle and we’re living stories. I have something to give them every month.
The group’s next meeting is April 12.