PERU — Kari Harmon has developed a passion for serving those who serve the country.
For about the past eight years, her volunteer efforts have included providing resources for service members’ families on Indiana military bases and extending friendly gestures to service members themselves stationed all over the country and world.
She’s never joined the military herself and had no service members in her immediate family until marrying her husband years after she started volunteering. It was a passion instilled not by exposure, she said, but an appreciation for all that those in the armed forces do.
The 46-year-old estimates she first joined a family readiness group at the Grissom Air Reserve base in 2005 or 2006. Then in 2009, she joined one at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh after marrying her husband, U.S. Army Maj. Bradley Harmon, who retired in 2012.
Upon her husband’s retirement, Harmon too left the 205th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury, which was made up of about 1,500 soldiers, as the leader of its family readiness group.
A member of a family readiness group has far-ranging responsibilities, Harmon said. They help new families acclimate to new bases and communities, assist with solving problems and serve as liaisons between families and service members after deployment. She’s done it all.
Col. Kevin Extine with the Indiana National Guard describes family readiness groups as “programs where family members can share information, come together to create networks and to create a continuity with everyone having something in common.”
When a service member is deployed and their spouse experiences any kind of problem, whether it’s a broken hot water heater, leaky roof or questions about health insurance, it can often be difficult to know who to turn to in a new place. That’s where the family readiness group comes in, Extine said.
Family readiness group members also communicate with commanders to keep service members’ loved ones up to date on what is happening with their unit after deployment, he added.
“It’s an extension of the military but for family members to keep up with what’s happening with service members,” Extine said. “It’s a great resource whether they’re deployed or not. Family is important to the National Guard. It’s family members who allow that service member to wear that uniform and serve our country. They play an extremely important role.”
It’s quite the responsibility, Harmon said, having to keep records of all the soldiers and knowing who to contact in various situations.
“Having 1,500 soldiers and families, you cannot afford to mess up and contact someone when you’re not allowed to contact someone,” Harmon said, adding “you don’t want to mess up” when those who will reprimand you are the same generals and officials in charge of the soldiers themselves.
Along with tending to the families of soldiers in Indiana, Harmon has extended a helping hand to soldiers from across the country, many of whom she’s never met.
With the help of several organizations she found through the internet, she has been put in contact with service members she corresponds with through letters, emails, cards and care packages. She said she has four she currently keeps in contact with regularly and has likely reached out to about 2,000 over the years.
“I’ve got one right now, she’s a sailor in the Navy,” Harmon said. “She just got her wings. I’m proud of her for that.”
Harmon has met several of the service members and has received gifts in return from some of them as well. Some she planned to meet but were killed before she got the chance.
“They need somebody other than their family and their friends that understand what they’re going through — the hardships, the ups and downs, everything,” Harmon said of the motivation behind her volunteer efforts with the military.
After her husband retired and the 205th Infantry Brigade moved out of state, Harmon has been living in Peru and volunteering with the Salvation Army in Logansport. She said she is planning to look into family readiness group opportunities at the U.S. Army National Guard base in Peru.
“I love doing this and I don’t want nothing in return,” Harmon said. “Just to show them they’re thought of, appreciated and loved.”
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him: @PharosMAK