Diane Rumley knows that when a man or a woman enlists into the United States military, the person wearing the uniform is not the only one agreeing to make a sacrifice for this country.
Mothers, fathers, husbands wives and their children - a lot …
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Mothers, fathers, husbands wives and their children - a lot of their children - gathered at the Sumter Opera House on Tuesday for a Military Spouse Appreciation event hosted by Support Military Spouses, the self-proclaimed largest Christian nonprofit dedicated to serving military wives and husbands in the nation.
"Military spouses sacrifice a lot. Not only do they do the single parenting, but usually they do that away from their own immediate family," Rumley said. "A lot of times they're the mechanic if something goes wrong and they have to fix it. Many times, a lot of first experiences that we enjoy as a couple, as a family - first steps, first teeth, first words - a lot of that is done while their spouse who is serving is not with them. So they're having a lot of life's moments alone ... A lot of times, they have the worry of how is my spouse doing?"
Rumley's organization, which she and her husband, who is a pastor, began in 2009, gives out care packages to spouses. The packages handed to each spouse on Tuesday - the vast majority of whom were wives - contained jewelry, nail kits and personal hygiene items.
Every care package also has a Bible in it. Rumley said more than 58,000 have been given out since they started the nonprofit.
"And we're just scratching the surface," she said. "There are 750,000 spouses."
The group currently serves seven military bases in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
She said she and her husband, Steve, started the effort for a simple reason.
"The Lord just laid it in my heart and in my husband's heart," she said. "He really wanted them to know three things: that He loves them; that He hears their prayers; and that he cares about them."
The event Tuesday occurred on the same day Gov. Henry McMaster was joined by South Carolina Adjutant Gen. Robert Livingston to designate May as Military Spouse Appreciation Month.
Col. Daniel Lasica, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, said he often hears from his airmen that, in a lot of ways, their spouses' jobs are harder than their own.
"We can't have a mission without our airmen and soldiers, and we don't have airmen and soldiers without a strong family. And they're doing the heavy lifting and the difficult work. They're the ones left to take care of the hosuehold and take care of the children," Lasica said.
He said this nonprofit and care package distribution is "just one small way we can tangibly not just say thank you and we appreciate what they do, we can actually do something for them."
Cleo Klopfleisch, family readiness group leader at United States Army Central, which is located on Shaw, said the Bibles provide comfort for the spouses when they may feel lonely or searching for answers.
"Being in a military family is very unique and completely different than in the civilian world because about every two to three years, we have to pick up and move to a new duty station, and half the time when we do move, our spouses aren't even moving with us because they're deployed in a place where the spouses and family can't go," she said.
Her role at ARCENT is to connect military families with the resources they need, such as certified babysitters, counseling, school representatives and community activities.
She said the packages are curated for the military spouse because they include pretty jewelry but also useful and necessary items, like the personal hygiene items and the Bible.
Being a military spouse may be trying at times, especially every time a family has to make new connections and friends in a new place, but Klopfleisch, who has been a military spouse for more than 20 years, said Sumter is easy.
"This is the South," she said. "When I first moved in, my husband was stationed in Jordan. I moved in by myself. I had someone knocking at my door within three hours of actually closing on the housing with bread, homemade bread and homemade jam, welcoming me to the neighborhood.
"It was simply amazing just having somebody come up to me and welcoming, not even knowing that I was military, and welcoming me into the community and having open arms, and since then, everybody in the neighborhood is like family to me."
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