Relatives and friends of Queens military personnel serving in Iraq are forming a support group to connect family members and friends with others in similar situations, The Queens Courier has learned.
The group, which has tentatively agreed on the name ‘Family Members Of Those Missing In Action Or Killed,' is working to finalize specifics of the organization, but it has its foundations in Corona with three mothers of soldiers, two who have been killed in action in Iraq and one still missing or captured.
Talks for starting the group began when friends and family members of Specialist Alex Jimenez, 25, a Corona resident who has been missing in Iraq since May 12, began joining his mother, Maria del Rosario Duran, to pray for her son's return.
“I think it's important for the families and friends of soldiers to know that there is a support group they can cling to,” said Duran, who will be the President of the organization. “That is why we decided to get together, because we all share the same grief.”
Within blocks of Duran's Corona home, two other mothers, Gladys Ciro, who lost her son Marlon Bustamante, 25, on February 1, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in Iraq, and Maria Gomez, whose son Jose Gomez, 23, died on an Iraqi battlefield on April 28, 2006, are going through similar situations.
“We are going through difficult times, having our beloved sons, husbands, daughters in Iraq, so we decided to form this support group with the families and friends,” Duran said. “I had many mothers coming to me, desperate to find a helping hand to listen to them. Often, what people need is to be heard, to find some solace/comfort in these hard times.”
City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, who has supported the soldiers' families throughout their grief, will serve on the Board of Directors of the organization and sees it as an important opportunity to help the affected families.
“These mothers share a common pain,” Monserrate said. “It was important for me to share that pain with them.”
Yoselin Genao, an East Elmhurst resident and friend of the Duran family, has attended preliminary meetings with the group, and experienced the mothers of the soldiers interacting with one another.
“One thing I have seen with them in terms of support, it is not the same as someone who has been through it in terms of their courage, hope and anger,” she said. “[Only] they know that feeling.”
In addition to providing emotional support, the group plans to counsel families of soldiers on the rights and benefits soldiers are eligible for when coming home from war.
“Oftentimes they come home, but don't have a place to stay,” said Miguel Lpez, who is involved with coordinating the new group. “Our soldiers don't have anything, not even their own roof, after so much sacrifice.”
Alirio Orduna, who is the Commander of the New York Military Youth Cadets based in Elmhurst, and a veteran who served during the Vietnam and Cold War, expressed similar sentiments saying he hopes this organization can serve as a model for others.
“My goal is not to go only local, it's to go national,” Orduna said.
Monserrate said that the group would likely hold a press conference on Tuesday, August 7 to announce the organization's formation and then hold a formal ceremony shortly thereafter, possibly at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan.