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thedrifter
04-24-06, 07:57 AM
April 24, 2006, 2:42AM
Web site connects Marine families
Parents get cybersupport for loved ones in war zones
By HARVEY RICE
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Steve Schulz knew where to find emotional support when he learned that a roadside bomb had driven shrapnel into his son's brain while on patrol with his Marine unit in Iraq.

Schulz, 52, a sales manager from Friendswood, went to MarineParents.com, a Web site created by a parent of another Marine whose son had gone to Iraq. On the message board, he sought prayers for Cpl. Steven K. Schulz, 21. And the responses flooded in.

His son has undergone 14 brain surgeries, but has survived.

Schulz was among nearly 200 parents of Marines who gathered this weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Houston for the MarineParents.com annual conference to offer the support that only military families can give each other.

Many of the parents had struck up relationships through message boards and e-mails on the site and were meeting each other for the first time.

Some don't understand

Sue Castor, 51, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said her friends didn't understand what it meant to go three weeks without hearing from a son who was in Iraq.

One friend whose son was away at college said dismissively, "My son isn't going to make it home this week either."

Castor was incredulous that her friend could equate the two.

"The civilians just don't understand," she said.

"Nobody else knew what I was going through," said Terri Roberts, 51, of Weatherford, Texas.

When her 26-year-old son, Joseph, a Marine pilot, was flying missions from Khyrgistan, she came across the Web site.

"It was like the biggest weight lifted off me," she said.

Mom founded site

The site was founded in January 2003 by Tracy Della Vecchia, 44, a Web developer in Columbia, Mo., who realized that she knew little about the Marines.

She was at a loss when her 19-year-old son, Derrick Jensen, now 23 and a corporal, joined up.

"The questions of a mother of a son heading for war made me understand the need to connect with other families," Della Vecchia said.

The site has a chat room for parents and provides answers to questions ranging from how to send a letter to what boot camp is like.

Like Della Vecchia, Schulz's concern for his son led him to found his own Web site, www.suppliedtosurvive.org.

When his son asked him to send him a scope for his M-4 carbine, Schulz scraped together enough to buy seven scopes at $800 apiece and shipped them to Iraq.

The Web site sent $100,000 in equipment to Marines in Iraq last year, he said.

Schulz said he is trying to raise $40,000 to equip three companies, each with about 300 Marines, that getting ready to head to Iraq.

Col. Bryan McCoy, who commanded the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines while Della Vecchia's son was in the unit, said he went to MarineParents.com to post open letters to parents and "saw a true benefit to parents and that it filled a need that needed to be filled."

McCoy said families with sons and daughters in the service often live in communities that experience the conflict as a distant, abstract event.

"They can't walk out the door and see that they are in a nation at war," he said.

harvey.rice@chron.com

Ellie