Community helps Glenwood Springs Navy mom’s project

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Gardner Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Judy Whitmore’s son, Trevor O’Link, is stationed on the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier somewhere in the Arabian Sea.

It will be Whitmore’s first Christmas that her 21-year-old son has been deployed since he joined the Navy.

While she admits that aspects of the day will be difficult, with her son half-a-world away, she has come to accept her son’s decision to join the military during a time of war. She is proud.

“You are proud of your kids. You are proud of what they are doing,” she said, sitting at a conference table in her Glenwood Springs office.

“My heart goes out to the women, spouses, mothers and fathers of kids who are on the ground. That is really tough,” she continued.

When she hears about young soldiers dying in Afghanistan or Iraq, or about incidents like the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, those incidents always ignite worry.

“When you hear any of those things, we think that it could be any of us, who are in that position,” Whitmore explained.

Her hands kept busy, twisting and tugging a fluorescent-pink rubber band – an illustration of her emotions.

“But the military experience has turned out to be a lot better than I expected it would be,” she said.

A smile appears.

Whitmore said that she always expected O’Link, now 21-years-old, to go to college after high school graduation. His decision to join the Navy was a surprise.

They had planned a trip to Europe after O’Link graduated from Basalt High School. However, those plans were scrapped after he decided to join the Navy.

“He got this bug, from a friend, that they were both going into the Navy,” she said. “Then the trip was canceled and they were off and running from there.”

Disappointed that the trip was canceled, Whitmore watched her son excel in basic training and graduate at the top of his class. His passion and commitment for serving his country became clear.

“He is so much more his own adult person than a lot of kids his age are,” she said. “The military experience has been very good for him.”

She said that her perception of soldiers has changed dramatically since her son enlisted, by getting to know other parents who’ve had kids join, too.

“I think that most parents agree, and I’ve been dumfounded with the quality of these kids,” she said. “It has really surprised me.”

Every American soldier knows the risks involved in joining the military. But parents, like Whitmore, have to deal with the internal conflict of letting their children go, while the feeling that they need to protect their children remains.

“What they are doing is risky and you always worry, And that is the hard part,” she said. Her smile hanging on. “I mean, every time you hear something like Iran testing a missile, or North Korea when his ship was near Korea …” Her cell phone rings a whistling tune, interrupting her thought, and she pauses.

Her smile returns.

“My son set it up for me,” she says about the unique ringtone.

Whitmore knew that O’Link would be deploying in June of this year. She knew, since he enlisted, that a deployment was inevitable.

So she joined a group of her own.

“I joined when I knew that he was going to be deployed in June,” she said.

Whitmore says she joined after seeing an advertisement on television one day. She says that there are about 200 people, not only mothers, involved in the U.S.S. Nimitz group through, and that it’s been a great thing to be a part because she’s found a group that she can relate to.

“You find out a lot about what is going on with our kids on that website,” she said. “It’s great that we live in that kind of age.”

The Navy Moms have a chat room online. And, since joining, Whitmore has also become part of another group of Colorado moms with kids in the Navy, and also a member of parents of soldiers on the U.S.S. Nimitz.

Being involved with the groups, and understanding what other parents, spouses and relatives were doing to show their support for their soldiers, Whitmore found another way to connect with her son.

“Someone came up with the idea to send gift bags in October, for each person on the ship” she said. And to all the personnel on the four other support ships accompanying the Nimitz.

“Because not everyone will be getting gifts this Christmas,” Whitmore said.

The task was daunting at first.

“I was like, I can’t believe you are actually thinking about doing this,” she admitted. “That is a huge project, you know? How are we going to do that much with only 200 people.”

Total, there were about 6,000 gift bags that needed to be prepared, packaged and sent. Whitmore took on 131 of the gift packages, calling it her “131 project.” In the end, she did more because she received so much community support and donated items that she had to keep going.

People from all over were joining the project, even mothers who had soldiers on other ships. And some parents who’s kids were not even deployed, Whitmore said.

“If all these people can pitch in and help, I can do the last 131,” she said.

Then the reality of how much work it was going to take set in, and Whitmore asked for help. She wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Post Independent. Her letter ran only once, but the response she received from her community was outstanding.

“Most of the people who helped were total strangers to me. That is amazing,” she said. “It was just so heartwarming.”

She had people donate items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, and socks and underwear. She even received some response from a couple of elementary school teachers from Rifle and Glenwood Springs who had kids write holiday letters and cards to the soldiers, showing support.

“It was great. I was amazed with the people who helped out,” Whitmore said.

After the remaining 131 gift bags were completed for the Nimitz crew, Whitmore decided to keep making gift bags until she ran out of supplies for the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Essentially, each gift bag tells each of them that we wish them warmth during the holiday season, and that we appreciate what they are doing,” Whitmore said.

Still twisting and tugging on the fluorescent-pink rubber band, Whitmore spoke about how her son’s deployment, and the “131 project,” has changed her, and has also given her a new respect for the community in which she lives.

“It was really a nice thing to do for Christmas when you can’t celebrate with your family like you want to,” she said. “This whole thing has changed my life.”

She will be in Denver for Christmas, visiting family. But her heart will be half-a-world away with her son.

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