By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
"We consider the members of the 857th Horizontal Engineering National Guard Unit our local, hometown heroes. To these soldiers, as well as the family members they are separated from, Dynell is their hero. Even though she daily carries the burden of having a spouse deployed to Afghanistan, she unselfishly chooses to be the liaison between the soldiers and their family members. She puts her worries aside to see to it that the needs of every soldier's family members are taken care of, on a daily basis, in their absence. That makes her a ‘mom’ to a lot of folks, a title which she doesn't take lightly. She is truly a hero in the eyes of so many, and I admire her strength and character greatly.”
— Janet Guidry, Picayune fire department secretary
Dynell Debolt is the wife to Spc. Shoun Debolt, deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the 857th Horizontal Engineer Company, Mississippi Army National Guard. She is the mother of three and a full-time employee in a business owned by her family in Gulfport who averages between 55 and 60 hours a week on the job. Debolt also is the chairperson of the 857th Family Readiness Group, which adds approximately 150 families to her care and for whom she advocates and watches over in the absence of their spouses.
Debolt says, “I work full time — plus some — try to be both mom and dad to our children while their father is away and volunteer for the state of Mississippi to liaison for the families of the 857th and their deployed family members. The position with the state is one where I have rules and regulations to follow. I am bound to confidentiality rules and other regulations. I have someone whom I answer to and who is also a wonderful source of support.”
She explains that there is a chain of command for families to go through for questions and needs, and she is the contact point for many of them.
“Some people call me twice a day and some I will never hear from, unless I call them. But they do get called; in fact Laurie Landry and Kathie Ladner of the Family Assistance Center contact each emergency contact of every deployed soldier at least once every four to six weeks to assess needs and answer questions they may have.
“They are also a wonderful resource for me because if I get questions which I can’t answer, I either call them myself or refer the family member to them.”
She seems to know each of her families very well and shares in their joys, successes and anxieties.
“We are the typical household. I knew that someone was needed for this position and when no one went forward to volunteer for it, I knew I was the one only because someone has to be there for these families. Some people assume because I have this position that I have it together. But, let me tell you, I am just like everyone else; there are bills due and piles of clothes to be washed. Our family is effected just like everyone else’s.
“My son has taken this deployment very hard. He misses his dad and the anxiety of wondering if his dad is okay has taken a huge toll on his grades and his energy. He has dropped participation in a lot of clubs, and we are all just hanging in there with him through this. Many families deal with this.”
There are upsides to the sacrifices they make daily for their loved ones who serve.
“When my husband calls, the world stops,” says Debolt. “There is nothing else in my realm of reality but his voice. The connection with your loved one is electric and you definitely do not take them for granted during this time. You are thankful for every email, phone call, Skype session or any other form of contact you have with them. There are times they may be unreachable and you pray it is not because they are under fire or from a unit member loss and the communication lines have been cut off. We don’t know where they are or when they will be in danger’s way.
“This is something that either makes your relationship or finishes it off. For the most part, a large percentage of our families are going strong.”
Debolt says that four unit members were able to view the birth of their child via Skype while on deployment. While this is an advancement and preferred to missing the birth of their child, it is still bittersweet for families.
Another thing spouses do to cope with the separation is to set goals for themselves through the deployment.
“Of course we plan things like: Lose weight, clean the house and things like that — which usually do not happen. But many of us started, and have continued, fitness classes, which have made us lose some inches and increased our flexibility. So that has been something positive for them to come home to,” she says with a smile.
Other positive things for the deployed unit members to come home to will be a monument which will be placed at the Armory and another which will be placed at the new City Hall. In addition, in a more practical vein, a new refrigerator is planned for the Armory.
These projects will require funding, which Debolt and the City of Picayune hopes to achieve through the some fundraising drives.
— A boot drive will be held today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at different intersections throughout Picayune. Firefighters holding boots to collect donations will stand beside family members of the deployed who will be holding signs that read “Help Support Our 857th National Guard.”
— The last fundraising event will be “Pennies for Soldiers” and will involve Poplarville, Pearl River Central, Picayune and Hancock schools competing for a chance to have a free dress day, or some other school approved incentive. The school that raises the most money wins.
Debolt says, “I have been all over Louisiana and Mississippi and experienced communities that would give once but be quick to tell you they had already given and once was enough. I am so honored to be part of a community like Picayune where no one ever says that. People continue to give and share.
“On days when I am at low points wondering how I will get things done and how I can be part of filling a need, I just think about the people in this community and feel restored and re-energized. I can’t wait to meet more people at the boot drive and have the families feel the love at the homecoming planned for the unit and when they see the monuments. There is no place like this community and now we have another group of women trying to organize similar events in a unit that is attached to us but located in another part of the state. It is very encouraging to see the support for our loved ones.”