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Article updated: 6/13/2013 5:25 AM

Military roots nourish Elgin woman's veteran advocacy

By Burt Constable

The lingering lilt of a Southern accent isn't the only remnant Elgin's Joyce Carrasco retains from her childhood in Atlanta.

"On my father's side, there were 11 children and all 11 children served in the military," says Carrasco. "The story goes that my grandmother had 11 Blue Stars in her window, and I cherish that story."

The days of World War II when families with loved ones fighting the war showed their pride by displaying a Blue Star in the window might sound like a lesson from a history book, but the 65-year-old Carrasco is writing the latest chapter.

"It became more meaningful to me when I displayed a Blue Star in my window," says Carrasco, who has seen two of her four adult children jet off to foreign war zones in military service to our nation.

As founder of the local chapter of Blue Star Mothers, a support network for local military families, and active volunteer for a variety of other military support groups, Carrasco received a Red Cross "Military Hero" award in April. Her father, Henry Spencer, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, working on bomber planes on island of Tinian, where the Enola Gay took off with the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Her uncles served, as did her aunt.

"I admired my Aunt Ernestine because she learned the skill of stenography as a WAC (a member of the Women's Army Corps)," says Carrasco. "She became a secretary when she got out."

Seeing veterans translate their military skills into civilian careers is a passion for Carrasco, who is helping find ways to do that as a trustee of ChildServ, a community-based charity throughout the city and suburbs that operates foster group homes in Lisle, Downers Grove and Naperville and transitional living programs in Wheaton. It also manages the Lake County Family Service Center in Waukegan. Founded in 1894 as the Methodist Deaconess Orphanage, ChildServ has consistently expanded its social services and now boasts the Military Families Therapeutic Trauma Initiative. which helps soldiers, spouses and families of military men and women.

Having built a network of 20 social-service partners, ChildServ is hosting a massive resource fair for veterans and their families from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Palatine Township Center, 721 S. Quentin Road in Palatine. All military families and veterans are welcome regardless of discharge status. For details, visit the childserv.org/salute website or phone (773) 867-7321.

"I really wanted to make sure we were doing something and it wasn't just people talking," says Jacques-René Hébert, military program manager for ChildServ. "We want to make sure we have an effect on the community. Everybody has a connection to a veteran, but maybe they don't know it."

A native Hoosier whose parents gave him a name honoring their French Canadian roots, Hébert served in the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2007 and spent three months in Iraq during the coalition's initial push into Baghdad in 2003. Developing the "can do" attitude needed by a Marine or any member of the U.S. military sometimes makes it difficult for veterans after they come home.

"It's a double-edge sword because it's that warrior mentality that keeps people from seeking help," Hébert says.

More than 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and more active duty soldiers die from suicide than from combat, according to a 2013 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"There's collateral damage for their siblings, parents, significant others, the children. All of them feel the effects of the war," Hébert says. "It's the community's job to respond to that."

Soldiers, veterans, spouses, parents, employers, children and everyone in a community needs to understand the stress military service creates, says Carrasco. Her husband, United Methodist minister and district supervisor the Rev. Oscar Carrasco, served in the military in his native Chile. Their son, Marine Lt. Col. Samuel Carrasco, currently is on his fifth deployment and away from his wife and three young children.

"I only know that he's in the Middle East," Carrasco says. Her daughter, Air Force Capt. Sara Carrasco, spent a year in Afghanistan, serves as a judge advocate general at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. and leaves soon for duty on an Air Force base in Djibouti, a tiny nation in the Horn of Africa.

"They both have Bronze Stars," their mom says. In her volunteer roles, Carrasco has delivered Gold Stars to local families of 33 military men and women killed in service.

"I can sit right here and see the faces of all those mothers," Carrasco says softly. "Whether the general public knows it or not, we are a country at war. And we need to step up and provide opportunities for returning veterans."

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