Local woman to take voices of vets to D.C.

The largely silent voices of military families after 10 years of war will be heard loud and clear this fall in Washington, D.C., thanks to the efforts of a Medford woman.

Stacy Bannerman is the producer and director of "Homefront 911: Military Family Monologues," which will be performed beginning at noon Nov. 17 in the United States Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium.

She is the author of many of the monologues that will be read by military family members.

"We want to help end the epidemic of disconnection between civilian and military families," said Bannerman, founder of The Sanctuary for Veterans & Families, a nonprofit organization that provides advocacy, support and sanctuary weekends for women veterans, wives of veterans and their loved ones.

"We want to raise the awareness of the impact a decade of war has had on these military families," she said. "We've heard a lot about the stress and strain muliple deployments have on troops, but people need to realize the stress on families is at a rate approaching those of our service members."

She knows of what she speaks. Her husband, Lorin, recently retired from the Washington Army National Guard after 27 years that included two tours in Iraq. The former enlisted citizen soldier was awarded the Bronze Star and combat infantry badge during his first tour.

She began advocating for troops and their families after her husband was mobilized for his first deployment in 2003. She fought for the Military Family Leave Act of 2009. She is working to secure sponsors for the Military Family Mental Health Improvement Act of 2010, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a House Armed Services Subcommittee chairman.

After the monologues premiered in Portland on Aug. 5, Wyden helped bring them to the U.S. Capitol, she said.

"This is a collection of personal monologues that were based on actual accounts from all over the United States," she explained. "I wrote most of the monologues based on conservations and interviews I've had with military families over the last 10 years. Several were also written by other military family members from all over the country."

While most American families struggle with the economy, many military families struggle with the economic slump as well as the fact their loves ones are in harm's way or are recovering from a physical or psychological wound, said Bannerman, author of the 2006 book "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind."

After bearing the responsibilities of the home front during two wars for 10 years, the rate of military family members with mental health issues is approaching that of service members, she added.

"About 99 percent of the population is not directly affected by the wars," she said. "They don't know about the reality of the cycle of war on families. We've got to bring it home literally and figuratively.

"This project came about because I kept hearing for years the same themes from military families: children struggling with clinical depression and suicide (rates) on the rise in military families," she added. "For the first time in American history, there are now more military family dependents than men and women in uniform."

The ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are also different from past wars in terms of the survival rate, she noted.

"We have the highest wound-to-kill ratio of any war in our history," she said. "In the Vietnam war, it was 3-to-1. Because of medical and technical advances, the ratio in these wars is nearly 16-to-1. But these men and women are coming back with some grievous injuries."

As a result, the caregivers — spouses, parents or partners — are struggling with issues such as clinical depression as they largely bear the brunt of caring for their loved ones over the years, she said.

"Too often people get stuck in politics," she said of the debate over the wars. "But people should remember these are not President Bush's soldiers or President Obama's soldiers. These are all of our soldiers. And one way to support the troops is help support the families."

That's where the monologues come in, she said.

"We can hear the numbers and it may not move us, but when we hear stories and see real people behind those numbers, that means a lot more," she said. "By engaging hearts, we think this project will help military families."

Her hope is that audience members will be moved to step forward to help military families, from volunteering in a local National Guard armory to offering to mow the lawn of a military family, she said.

"Our hope is that more people will get involved with helping military family members," she said. "They could offer to mow the lawn, run errands. There is a whole lot of need out there.

"For all of us impacted by these wars, our lives will never be the same," she added.

For more information on the sanctuary, check out www.sanctuaryvf.org. Bannerman can be contacted at info@sanctuaryvf.org.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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