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Lori Lind (far right) and members of Support Our Troops prepare for the Fourth of July parade in Moose Lake this summer. They marched with placards that pictured family members in the military. Contributed photo.

Barnum's Lori Lind found her calling during the worst year of her life

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Before Lori Lind's oldest son deployed to Iraq, she knew having a child at war was tough on a family.

She just didn't know how tough.

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"One of my good friends had had two boys deployed at the same time," Lind said. "After Jacob deployed, that was the worst year of my life. When I realized how difficult it must have been for her, I told her I was so sorry."

That experience - having a son deployed overseas -galvanized the ebullient Lind, who got involved with the family readiness group (FRG), something that eventually led to her leadership role at the Support Our Troops organization based in Moose Lake.

It seems like Lind doesn't do anything half-heartedly.

Through FRG, she started out making calls to other families with troops who had deployed out of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., checking in on them, talking, seeing if they had any particular needs. Before long, Lind was inviting their wives and children to come up and stay at the Linds' rural Barnum home so they could get away and be with others who had family deployed.

That didn't end when the soldiers returned, either.

"Now the whole family - and the single soldiers, too - come up and stay, sometimes just one or two or a whole bunch," Lind said, sharing a photo of a group of 19 (including her three sons) gathered on the back deck at their home. "Sometimes I have air mattresses and sleeping bags everywhere in my house. I love having them and they know they are always welcomed here!"

During the interview, Lind wore a baseball shirt with the 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls logo on the front and her son Jacob's name on the sleeve. She had her youngest son, Jon, age 15, bring down a sweatshirt displaying a heart in two pieces, filled in with the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag. Around the heart are the words: "Part of my heart is in Iraq," with her son's name, "Jacob 'Jake' Lind," written underneath.

Again, Lind's philosophy of doing things in a big way was in evidence. Instead of simply ordering a few shirts for her immediate family, Lind took orders from every family who wanted T-shirts or sweatshirts. She even got a group discount for ordering T-shirts for their family-owned Lind-Furey Custom Cabinets at the same time. Families who ordered over 25 items got their soldier's name added for free, otherwise it was $3 extra.

"My family and friends ordered just over 100," said the born-and-raised Willow River girl, laughing. "But I am from a family of 10 kids."

Support Our Troops

Like the military family sleepovers, Lind's involvement with Support Our Troops didn't slow down after Jacob came home either.

With lots of help from Ann Haugen and Carla Giersdorf - whose sons also served - Lind keeps group members and others informed via email and phone calls.

The group is loosely organized and membership varies, Lind said, explaining that many families get very involved while their family member is away, but that tapers off once he or she returns. That's to be expected, she said. Group members (and anyone else who wants to come) meet monthly at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Moose Lake, in part to support one another during this incredibly stressful time, but also to support the soldiers from the area.

"We sit and talk, that helps a lot," Lind said. "The military family - people with family members in the military - is close. They understand that no news is often good news, what it's like to have someone away and serving overseas."

One of the primary ways the group supports troops with local ties to the area who are stationed away from home (within the country or overseas) is by mailing them care boxes, filled with items like American candy, pens and paper, toothbrushes and mouthwash, snack foods, puzzles, games, music CDs, travel-sized personal care items and books and magazines.

It's the thought that counts.

"When we send them a package, it's not what's inside, it's the fact that it comes from their community, that their community remembers that soldier who's gone," she said, adding that the group currently sends boxes to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those in Japan, Colorado, Alaska and more. "We send to any local soldier when they're away from home. It just tells them that their community appreciates them, what they're doing."

The group also frequently encloses items that aren't so practical, letters and drawings from local school children who want to support the troops in their own way.

Those are the letters her son kept, she said.

Although the group was a Blue Star Moms organization when Lind first started participating, she said members decided to drop out of the national organization because the local chapter leaders had quit, combined with the fact that costs to belong to the national organization were taking money away from the local group's ability to send boxes to area soldiers.

Right now, Lind said, they have the most people helping since the group reorganized, in part because there are a high number of local troops deployed right now.

When her son and other local soldiers were deployed, Lind said she was shocked when she went to see them off and noticed some men and women had no family or friends there to show support.

"I have to issue a disclaimer here," Lind said. "If I get the name of a soldier that nobody is sending to, I will send him a package.

"There should never be a soldier who isn't getting something from his country. He's willing to give his life for his country, he should at least get a box."

A family affair

Although Jacob is her only son to have deployed, Doug and Lori Lind's second oldest son, Joey, is also in the Minnesota National Guard. Jonathan is a sophomore at Barnum High School.

Lind said Joey was "born a soldier" so she was shocked when a recruiter came to the house to talk to Jacob.

"It was the day after President Bush said we needed 30,000 more troops," she said. "When he said a recruiter was coming, I said Joey was too young to join. He said, 'No mom, it's for me.'

"I was shocked. It was quite a surprise. And since he was only 17, we had to sign. I couldn't do it. Doug had to sign."

With Joey, Lind said, it was more a question of which branch he would decide on, not whether or not to enlist. He is now a cavalry scout and studying in Duluth, soon to leave for mountain warfare training in Norway.

When his unit deployed earlier this year, Joey couldn't go because he wasn't done training until August.

"Joey has wanted to be a soldier since he was 2," Lind said, adding that he tried (unsuccessfully) to get out of his last semester of school so he could deploy with his unit.

War changes a person, Lind said. Jacob was different when he returned two years ago. Four of his companions had died there; he'd seen many things he didn't encounter growing up in rural Minnesota.

And then there's the difficulty with resuming a normal life after living in a war zone.

"They come back and the world's changed," she said. "Their kids are a year older, their siblings are in a new grade. They've missed Christmas and birthdays; the world went on without them.

"If you went away for a year to see a different part of the world, you'd come back changed too. But they're coming back with an education most people wouldn't want."

Some of the stories she's heard - things like children and pregnant women being strapped with bombs - are almost unimaginable.

"What they give up to be a soldier ... it's remarkable that we have any soldiers at all," she said. "They're paid little, and 99 percent of them do it because they love their country."

Lind and many of the other Support Our Troops members had placards made out of photographs of their soldier in uniform that they carried in several parades last summer, including the Moose Lake Fourth of July parade.

"I think it makes people realize that there really are a lot of local soldiers," she said. "It's not just some stranger. It really is the boy - or girl - next door."

For now, Lind is happy to have all three of her boys - Jacob, 22; Joey, 19; and Jonathan, 15 - all in Minnesota. The older two come home for visits - and to help with the family custom cabinet business - and Lind continues to be involved with Support Our Troops as well as being mom to boys who are growing up fast.

"I'm proud of my boys," she said. "It's not what I would pick for them, but I'm proud."

Editor's Note: To find out more about Support Our Troops, contact Lori Lind at 218-389-0170 or email supportourtroops2@hotmail.com.

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