June 20, 2006 > Operation MOM
by Vidya Pradhan
On a cool spring day in 2004, Diane Layfield heard the worst; Lance Corporal Travis J. Layfield was killed in action. He was her oldest son.
Travis, a Marine assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed in a battle in Iraq's Anbar province, a mere three weeks after his arrival in Iraq.
Two years have passed, but for Diane, not a day goes by without remembering her brave son, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with tears. She recalls his courage, determination and hard work toward his single-minded dream of joining the armed forces. Four years of Navy Sea Cadet training convinced Travis he wanted to be a Marine. The teen enlisted while still a junior in high school and never regretted it. In fact, in calls home from Camp Pendleton, he described the battalion as his new family.
For Diane, the traumatic loss of her son would have been impossible to bear without the support groups formed to help members of military families through the grieving process. One of these groups, Operation MOM, helped her so much that Diane decided to get involved with the group so that she could reach out to others enduring similar losses.
During WWII, some mothers with children on active duty formed a support group called Today, with chapters in each of the military branches. Operation MOM was then conceived to encompass all branches under one organization. Presently, family and friends of active personnel are welcomed to the group as are those whose children have served in the past. Their motto is, "Our family- your freedom."
Apart from working as a support group at home, Operation MOM also provides direct aid to military personnel deployed overseas by writing letters and sending food packages and other necessities that remind our troops of how much they are supported and loved. Periodically, the members meet to assemble care packages for shipment overseas.
Operation MOM also sells T-shirts and other products honoring the troops. The proceeds go toward the packages and also to help needy military families. Recently, the group helped out Army Sgt. Brian Wells and his family after he was critically injured in the line of duty.
Support groups such as these were the lifeline Diane needed after her devastating loss. She says that others mean well, but the loss is hard to understand for those who don't have children in the military. After Travis' death, her social circle gradually began to revolve around members of military families because she found it easier to connect with them and share her experiences. Their sympathy, understanding and counseling proved invaluable.
Her home, which she maintains as a shrine to her son, is filled with outpourings of love and support. The walls are covered with portraits, posters and wreaths in Travis' memory. Complete strangers have written moving letters and poems honoring her son.
Now Diane counsels grieving families, herself. Every day calls and emails come in from all over the country asking her to visit, share her experiences and help to make sense of the stresses and strains of military life. Sad as it was, Travis' passing led Diane to her new calling in life. "I feel that maybe I can give back just a little bit of all that they gave to me. Travis always said, 'Mom, this is my new family, these are my brothers.' I feel he would want me to send them cards and letters and let them know they are in my thoughts."
Along with her work with Operation MOM, Travis' desires to help his military brothers compelled his mom to support another worthy organization, Soldiers' Angels. This group was started by the mother of a soldier in Iraq who has since returned home safely. In the summer of 2003, he wrote his mom, expressing his concern that some soldiers did not receive any mail or support from home. Patti Patton-Bader, mother of Sgt. Brandon Varn, decided to address this concern. She contacted a few friends and extended family to ask if they would write to a soldier or two.
Within a few short months, Soldiers' Angels went from a mother writing a few extra letters to an Internet community with thousands of angels worldwide and growing stronger daily.
Organizations such as Operation MOM and Soldiers' Angels need the support of the community as well as new members. For more information, visit www.operationmom.org and www.soldiersangels.org.
Mark July 22 on your calendars and join Operation MOM's next packing meeting at the Teamsters Hall in Hayward. Call (510) 582-4611 for details.
Operation MOM packing meeting
8 a.m. to. 3 p.m.
492 C Street, Hayward
Currently Operation MOM is in need of office space in the Castro Valley-Hayward-San Lorenzo area so that they can process donations. If you have a vacant office, storefront, or warehouse space they can occupy for free or at a reduced price, please call Dotty at (510) 582-4611.