National Guard families gather for play and support

Not knowing is the hardest part, according to Kandi Williams.

Her son, Spc. Lucas Spicer, 22, is deployed in Afghanistan with the Louisiana National Guard’s 927th Engineer Company, 769th Engineer Battalion.

Williams is able to Facebook and Skype messages with her son but it isn’t the same, she said. Before his deployment, he lived with her. Now, day to day, she said, she doesn’t know what he’s doing or whether he’s even safe.

“His truck’s in my driveway. I have empty nest syndrome,” she said.

Attending events put on by the unit’s Family Readiness Group helps, she said. The organization supports families of the 927th, especially when the unit is overseas.

On Saturday, the families of the unit got together for a meeting, socializing and playing in a faux winter setting.

Organizer Donna Dufour arranged for a truckload of snow to be delivered to the yard outside of the National Guard Armory in Baton Rouge on GSRI Avenue.

Children ranging in age from toddlers to teens dove in — throwing snowballs at each other, making snowmen and dumping the cold snow down one another’s shirts.

The adults socialized and ate king cake, boudin balls and sandwiches.

Williams said she likes to find out what others hear from their relatives deployed with the 927th. Spicer finds more time to keep up with his girlfriend than his mother.

“As long as he talks to her and she talks to me, it’s OK,” Williams said.

The Baton Rouge-based unit deployed 90 soldiers in November to conduct route-clearance operations. The unit was also in Afghanistan in 2008.

Heather Ghere was attending her first event put on by the FRG. She and her husband, David Ghere, were married when he was on leave during his deployment in 2008.

Like most of the members of the unit, he is a combat engineer in charge of route clearance. His job involves “driving 5 miles an hour down the road” searching for improvised explosive devices, she said.

She tries not to think about the danger and doesn’t watch news accounts about the war.

She wears her husband’s wedding band on a chain around her neck, Ghere said. During his first deployment, it became caught on a truck, so he stopped wearing it to work, she said.

The second deployment has been easier.

For one thing, her husband is able to talk to her almost every day on Skype.

He calls around 9 a.m., which is 7:30 p.m. in Afghanistan. Buying Internet access is easier for soldiers than it was in 2008, though it’s still expensive, she said.

“Last time, I didn’t know what to expect. This time, I could prepare for it,” Ghere said.

Her husband makes DVDs of himself reading children’s books and mails them to their 4-year-old daughter, Janie.

“She’s a total daddy’s girl. She has a daddy doll and says prayers with it every night,” Ghere said.

Sue Abshire volunteered at the event even though she doesn’t have loved ones in the unit. From growing up in a military family, Abshire knows about the difficulties for soldiers’ loved ones.

“There were five kids in my family. We wore each other’s clothes and played with each other’s toys. If we got something new, like a bike, it was a shock. Now that I’m married and I have more, I try to give back,” she said.

She sends packages to soldiers and participates in a program that pairs physicians’ groups with military families for Christmas. The families always ask for clothing and books for their children.

Members of the armed forces are underpaid and their families learn to appreciate every little thing, she said.

Abshire is also involved with Operation Quench, a program with St. Jude the Apostle school that collects drink mixes to send to soldiers. They will be sending packages in March.

Abshire was helping Dufour hand out backpacks to the children in attendance.

Dufour said being in charge of the unit’s Family Readiness Group is like being a “den mother to a Boy Scout troop.” They always have door prizes or something to give away during events and meetings, she said.

But besides that role, she’s also mother to Darren Dufour, 22, one of the soldiers deployed with the unit.

Dufour said her son pays $40 a week for Internet access and $25 for 10 hours of phone use in order to keep in touch with family and friends.

The Family Readiness Group meets every month and will hold an Easter egg hunt and outdoor movie nights in the spring.

The families of the 927th along with the Geaux 7 Chapter of Blue Star Moms will hold a Clear the Way 5K and Fun Run at 2 p.m. March 29 in downtown Baton Rouge. Those interested should call (225) 505-8445 or email Jennifer ward7@yahoo.com.