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Blue Star Mothers helps military moms weather holiday

There are many nights Kathleen Keutmann will clutch her rosary and say not one but two prayers for both her military sons serving abroad.

“Your mind lives in the ‘what if,’ ” she said. “Motherhood is not for sissies. It’s the biggest joy and the biggest worry you can ever imagine.”

Along with the Blue Star Mothers, Keutmann, a Henderson resident, turns to her faith and friends to get her through missing her boys.

“I pray a lot,” she said. “Life is finite, so you have to have a lot of faith. I direct all my fears to God and my friends. They are my lifeline.”

Despite being raised in — and having married into — a military family, she never knew being a military mom would be as hard as it is rewarding.

“But being a mother (in the military) is a lot tougher than being a wife or daughter,” she said. “But it’s amazing to watch your son being saluted.”

It was no surprise that her children, 29-year-old Jon and 26-year-old Patrick, followed the path.

“When Jon was 2, we took him to the air show,” she said.

His face lit up watching the planes overhead.

From then, it was just counting the time down until he would join.

Jon went to the U.S. Air Force, while Patrick joined the Army.

“It’s a noble job most Americans don’t take up,” Keutmann said. “I am so incredibly proud of them. I could talk about them all day. But what mother doesn’t want to brag on her sons?”

Jon is stationed in Afghanistan, and Patrick is in Okinawa, Japan. Keutmann talks to Patrick more than Jon.

“He is horrible with communicating,” she said. “One time, I hadn’t heard from him for a while and started to worry.”

She sent emails to his friends asking if they had heard anything.

“Finally, he responded, ‘Mom, we are at war. Kind of busy. No news is good news,’ ”Keutmann said.

Patrick, she said, is usually better able to answer back quickly.

Even though Keutmann carries a sense of pride, it never nullifies her fears of all that could go wrong, especially when her children are in the face of danger.

“They share so many stories with me, but then tell me some stories they have aren’t ‘mother-approved,’ ” she said. “I always remind them to be safe. I tell them, ‘Don’t make me crazy. Don’t put me in an institution.’ ”

Blue Star Mothers of Henderson and Boulder City has helped her process her feelings about being a military mother.

“I was fine until I met someone from Gold Star Moms,” she said, referring to the organization for mothers who have had children die during war. “It was something I wasn’t ready to deal with.”

The boys haven’t been home together for a Mother’s Day in nearly a decade.

On Mother’s Day, Keutmann is used to getting a nice bouquet of flowers.

“But my husband knows to tread lightly, because he knows I might be feeling a little empty that day,” she said.

Despite fears and times she misses her boys, she always looks forward to the next visit.

And no matter how successful their careers become, she knows she will always outrank them as Mom.

“I saw a T-shirt with it,” Keutmann said. “It was something like, ‘Don’t think you can undermine my authority because you have rank.’ I bought it, of course.”

For Henderson resident Jeannie Radovich, her son’s burdens are her burdens.

“Sometimes, when he opens up, I can tell some of the things he has seen really wear on him,” she said. “It’s hard to watch.”

But even when times get tough and she missed her son — as she will on Mother’s Day — she turns to her faith.

“I have faith in God that he’ll protect him and also faith in Josh,” she said. “He is a smart kid and good at his job.”

Her son Josh, now 38, joined the Air Force in 1999 to be patriotic and because he was attracted to the benefits of military service.

Along the way, as he entered different wars and traveled to new countries, it was hard for Radovich some days, particularly around holidays.

“Especially when he first joined,” she said. “Back then there wasn’t FaceTime. We were barely able to email him. Families were pretty much left flailing in the wind.”

Blue Star Mothers helped Radovich send care packages to her son and his squad and acted as a support system when she was fearful.

“So many mothers fall apart when their sons go on tour,” she said. “This helps keep us together.”

The group has been by her side as Josh has served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Kuwait.

“Some days are better than others,” Radovich said. “He does rescues, so he is on a helicopter a lot. That’s what worries me the most, because you hear so many stories.”

With advancement in technology over the years, Radovich’s son has been able to stay in touch better.

“He bought me an iPad so we can FaceTime,” she said. “That is so wonderful.”

Though he is currently stationed in Tucson, Ariz., Josh is possibly slated to do a tour in Africa starting this summer.

“I don’t know all the details because it’s covert,” Radovich said. “I’m a little worried again. It’s hard work being a mother.”

For more information on Blue Star Mothers, visit bluestarmothers.org or facebook.com/bluestarmothers.hendersonbouldercity.

Contact Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 702-387-5201.

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