For the past two years, New Canaan resident Jennifer Ahrens has been going through a tough period. She really misses her 23-year-old-son Colin, who is currently serving in the U.S. Marines.

Ahrens knows she isn’t alone — there are many other mothers in the community in her situation. That’s what motivated her to form Moms of Military (MOM), a support network for mothers in New Canaan and Darien whose children are currently serving in military academies, boot camp training, or are on active duty or deployed.

“It was a handful of friends who were going through this at the same time,” she said. “We were in uncharted territory.”

The group, which now has more than 50 members, held its first meet-and-greet kick off in the fall. They met a second time to put together a large deployment care package for those who are serving.

Members of MOM are not required to pay dues or fund-raise.

Recently, Ahrens, along with several other MOM members, met with The Darien Times to talk about all the benefits being in MOM can bring to its members.

The group’s members hope to meet three or four times a year. Their next meeting will be in late winter or early spring.

Friendship, support

“Especially through a deployment, you’re really looking for friendship from other mothers who are [going through the same experience],” said Ahrens, whose son Colin graduated from the University of Richmond and was commissioned in the Marines as a lieutenant. He’s based in Camp Pendleton in California, as a platoon commander in charge of 40 men. Beginning in April, he’ll will be training in the Middle East and “is likely to be deployed within a year.”

“It can be isolating,” she added. “A lot of people really don’t fully understand that, and the sacrifices that go along with it as a family.”

Darien resident Kelly Hoffman’s 24-year-old son Riley is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marines. He was deployed to Korea for six months.

“He was in the South China Sea,” Hoffman said. “This was his first deployment. It was for about six and a half months. In Japan and South Korea, there’s not much communication and you don’t really know where they are unless they contact you.”

She added that MOM is about women “who really understand what your son is going through and what the journey is.”

Kathy Pasquarella of Darien, whose 25-year-old son Kyle is in the U.S. Navy in Japan as a rescue swimmer, said, “It’s nice to have a sounding board close by.”

Hoffman said she enjoys being able learn from other mothers whose children are going through experiences her own child is going through.

Both Hoffman and Ahrens have sons based at Camp Pendleton.

“They played lacrosse together growing up,” Hoffman said. “They live within a block of each other now and they are a year apart. They both went through Officer Candidate School.”

Educational

A large part of MOM is sharing educational information.

One such tip is the “code” when calling a child who’s serving.

“If your son or daughter calls, have them call twice because you might miss the first one, with the time change,” Ahrens said.

“These little helpful things only a group like this would share,” she added.

Members also recommend relevant articles, books and movies.

There’s even a special subculture of terms and phrases that are used by those involved in the military, which the newer members may not be familiar.

“It’s learning the language,” Ahrens said. “It’s a whole new language for me. There are a lot of acronyms to understand.”

Awareness

Another goal of MOM is to raise cultural awareness of those are who serving.

According to Hoffman, there’s little acknowledgment in the community for those currently serving.

MOM members are looking to create more awareness through plaque and wreath dedications, and hanging up banners around town.

They hope this will “inspire some of the younger people who are also thinking about doing this as a career,” Hoffman said.

“In a lot of parts of the country, the military is more prevalent because there’s either a base nearby or it’s in generations of the families,” said Darien resident Amy Powless, whose 22-year-old-daughter Emma is a senior at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Emma will be graduating in May and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

“There is a lot more of that hometown spirit and they welcome them when they come home from deployment. There’s a big deal, almost like an Olympic athlete coming home. Around here, you just don’t hear about it,” she said.

Powless said hearing about what her daughter was exposed to, “gives me such an appreciation for the depth of training in the military. The community should also be exposed to that appreciation and know what some members of their community are going through.”

“I think we all live in a bubble in Fairfield County,” Powless added. “You take your freedom for granted and not really think about it on a daily basis.”

“Work in progress”

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Ahrens, referring to MOM. “We’re kind of feeling our way through it.”

According to Hoffman, the one common denominator for why today’s young people are in the military is the service aspect.

“It starts with the service,” she said.

“All of their children grew up with the tragedy of 9-11,” Ahrens added. “I feel that that has carried all these young men and women through, and got them thinking, ‘I want to do something about this.’”

No matter where their children are serving, what position they have, or how long it will be until they can go home, all the MOM members share one thing in common, according to Ahrens.

“We want all our kids to be safe,” she said.

For more information about MOM, contact Jennifer Ahrens at jen4ahrens@gmail.com.

sfox@darientimes