In this June 28 photo provided by Connie Wilson, women attend a baby shower hosted and organized by Army spouse Melissa Revel, in Sumter, S.C. Revel collects donated items to present to the women, who are the pregnant spouses of deployed Army and Air Force servicemen. (Connie Wilson / AP)
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina Army wife has been busy this year organizing baby showers in honor of pregnant military wives whose husbands are deployed.
Melissa Revel said the idea came to her when she was pregnant with her third child and didn’t want to feel sorry for herself because her husband was away.
“I decided to get busy and reach out to other moms in a similar situation,” said Revel, 29, who is set to hold her third shower Thursday at a hotel outside Shaw Air Force Base in central South Carolina.
The celebrations give the women a support group when they may need a boost, Revel said — some are in new homes, far from family and friends.
She said she intends to hold one every three or four months, and she welcomes donated items to pass on to mothers-to-be. Each shower celebrates about a dozen women, and they can choose what they need from the donated goods.
“It’s a time when you really need to talk with other moms,” said Revel, of Sumter, next to Shaw. “Being pregnant is stressful enough, but even more so when your husband is deployed.”
For Thursday’s shower, a local caterer has donated food, and companies from around the world have sent in items for babies and families, Revel said. A high school’s junior ROTC unit is participating with a flag ceremony, and a friend will sing the national anthem.
Revel’s husband is an Army major attached to the 3rd Army, which moved in 2011 to the South Carolina air base. The 3rd Army’s job is logistical: It supplies and supports U.S. land forces in 20 nations of the Middle East and southwestern Asia. Its new headquarters was built at Shaw after the command’s aging center in Atlanta was closed in 2011. It moved about 1,200 military men and women to the area.
The relocation was intended to shift the 3rd Army and have it coordinate with the 9th Air Force, which is based at Shaw and supports U.S. air operations in the same geographic regions.
Shaw also is home to the 20th Fighter Wing, which has deployed dozens of F-16 Fighting Falcons around the globe in recent years amid the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This leads to “lots of young families whose spouses are deployed” for months at a time, Revel said.
But even if military commanders are in contact with one another at the base, the reality of life for those families who live off base may be lonely, and making friends and contacts can be difficult, Revel said.
Revel — who has now had a baby girl — said she began her project by contacting women through a family support group at Shaw, and it has grown from there. She also used a blog and a Facebook page, both called Operation Military Shower. She also got on the phone and asked companies to donate items. Since her first shower in April, she said she has been overwhelmed by the response. In recognition, she posts on the blog about the companies that donate.
“In April I started contacting companies, and within weeks, FedEx and UPS have been delivering to my door every day,” Revel said. “It’s just been great to have such support. Now that my husband is home, he wonders where I am going to put it all.”
Capt. Angela Buckley, an Air force logistics officer who is expecting a boy in November and attended a shower in June, said she was astonished by the number and range of products the moms could choose from.
“I was so impressed with her operation, I have volunteered to help her with the next one,” the 26-year-old said.
Buckley said she told two pregnant enlisted women in her unit to come this week. Their spouses are both deployed.
“It’s a great thing, particularly for the young airmen who don’t make a lot of money,” Buckley said.
Julie Prillerman, also of Sumter, is helping Revel organize the event after attending an earlier shower.
“The presents are nice, but it’s not really about the gifts,” said the 34-year-old, whose husband is an Air Force staff sergeant. She now has a 12-week old daughter, as well as three other children. Her husband has been deployed three times over the past 6 years, she said.
“It’s about meeting each other, and staying in touch,” Prillerman said. “It’s important to help people feel special at a time when you really need it.”