‘All you can do is pray that they come back’: Triad military families lean on one another while loved ones are deployed

Piedmont Triad News

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (WGHP) — As the fight overseas in Afghanistan leaves some Triad military families heartbroken and angry, others have entered a time of unknowing as their loved ones are deployed overseas.

The attack on the Kabul airport on Thursday has resulted in the deaths of 13 US troops, and at least 90 Afghans.

The suicide bomber has been linked to ISIS-K, with the White House warning of the threat of more attacks to come.

As the news played out on Wednesday for Lewisville mother, Tracy Shumack, her mind was on her son who was deployed from California three weeks prior.

“We haven’t heard from him since,” Shumack said.

Her family, like many others, is honored by a continued tree of military service members enlisted in different branches.

“My grandfather was in the Army, my father and his twin brother were US Air Force; my husband was a Marine; my son is in the Navy; my son-in-law is in the Navy. So, we’ve got pretty much all the branches covered.”

Her son-in-law returned from deployment in the Middle East during the summer. However, as he was returning, her son was being deployed.

“All we got was an e-mail saying ‘Gone,’” Shumack said. “It’s already hard enough when you have your child, your spouse and they’re over there to protect us as well as the Afghanistan people. It’s even worse when you feel as if they were just sitting ducks.”

Shumack is not the only military mother who has experienced this frustration. Lori Egerter also has a heavy heart and mind on the struggles military families and service members have felt in the wake of the turmoil overseas.

Egerter’s son is a Marine, who returned from deployment during the summer.

While he was fighting for his country, Egerter began her own mission to honor her son and the other sons and daughters who did not make it home.

“I felt the strong need to honor them. And not just honor them, not just honor those that we lost, which is the biggest sacrifice a military family can make, but to honor those who serve.”

In the back displays at Coopers Vintage Village in Kernersville sits a sea of Christmas trees, known as the Trees of Valor.

On each tree sits the photo of a service member who either enlisted, fought, or died in service of their country.

The sanctuary of solace has slowly become a home for veterans and their families to come, sit, and reflect on their time served, or the time others are serving.

“Over the past few weeks, I can feel tensions in the veterans. Even in the veteran community, it’s created a real struggle for some of them. I’ve had veterans who are saying to me we’ve always been there, but it seems like people didn’t care,” Egerter said.

It’s that sentiment Egerter hopes to help others overcome with her project, especially with the threat of more attacks to come.

“It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle,” Egerter said.

As these events unfold in the Middle East, her mission is also expanding to accommodate the growing number of military families stuck in the unknown. And, those servicemen and women who will return with the heavy mental weight of what they experienced.

“Twenty-two. That’s the number of military men and women who take their own lives every day,” she said.

Her tree farm has grown to now include a tree labeled “Today’s Mission and Purpose.”

“This was started by a veteran. He wanted veterans to know that they have a new mission and purpose when they get home. His idea was that the tree should have pictures of veterans in their clothing that they wear now to show what their new life’s mission and purpose is.”

If you would like to add a photo to a Tree of Valor, click here.

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