By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer
(Duluth, MN) - When a loved one is deployed it's hard on the families left behind, especially the children. Now, thanks to Mary Linda Sather of Duluth, Minn., there is a resource available to military families everywhere.
The retired educator has developed the Connecting Hearts workshop as a way to help families stay connected to their deployed loved ones. She begins each workshop by thanking attendees for their service to our country, then shares her own family's story.
In 2007, when her son, SMSgt. Ron Waterhouse, was on his second deployment to Iraq his then 12-year-old daughter, Shea Leigh, sent her beloved teddy bear, Boo Boo, on a mission to look after her dad. SMSgt. Waterhouse brought the bear along with him as he carried out his duties on base, and even arranged for Boo Boo to accompany an F-16 pilot on a mission. While they were in Iraq together, SMSgt. Waterhouse took plenty of photos of Boo Boo and sent them home.
"Our family was inspired by Shea Leigh's act of love. I knew the story was one that could help other military families and decided to write a children's book," said Sather. Beaver's Pond Press published Boo Boo Bear's Mission The True Story of a Teddy Bear's Mission in Iraq in June 2009. The book begins by explaining how Shea Leigh was feeling when she found out her father had to leave, then jumps right into how she decided to send her bear overseas to take care of her father.
After Sather finished writing the story, and gathering the collection of resources that would ultimately be published at the back of the book, she decided to enlist the help of local children to draw the illustrations. More than half of the children who participated were from military families.
Shortly after the book came out, Sather was invited to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs to hold workshops for the families of deploying and deployed soldiers. She has also spent time working with families at the Minnesota Air National Guard Base in Duluth where her son's unit, the 148th Fighter Wing, is based.
In May 2011, Boo Boo Bear and author Mary Linda Sather were invited to participate in deployment ceremonies for the CRAZY troop of the 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry. Responding to Sather's reading of Boo Boo Bear's Mission the commander of the unit, Capt. Michael Boelk, said, "It's absolutely wonderful! The kids really enjoyed it. After hearing the story my own son said he would write his own book, and I know he will."
"I thought it was a very cute story and it did make the point about how families are concerned about the soldiers and the soldiers are concerned about the families too," said Boelk's father-in-law, Paul Brown, the former Deputy Chief of the Army National Guard Logistics Division in Arlington, Va.
"I think the book is phenomenal. It puts it into perspective for the kids to understand what Mom and Dad are going through. I'm so impressed by it," said DeAnn Carlson, whose husband, 1st Sgt. Chad Carlson has just been deployed to Kuwait for a yearlong mission. Carlson is the Family Readiness Group (FRG) leader for Crazy Troop and says she will invite Boo Boo Bear to participate in additional FRG events during the deployment period.
Sather received similar feedback from attendees of her workshop a month earlier at Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs.
"I absolutely enjoyed the whole experience . . . Loved the book and the circle discussion idea. I will definitely try to involve that in my family life," said one attendee.
A grateful mom commented, "My son has been having a tough time with his dad leaving soon and I think the story comforted him."
"Thank you so much for introducing this story to us," said another parent.