Honor, Remember & Teach: Blue Star Moms support military year-round

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

BATON ROUGE — The Russia-Ukraine crisis has brought war to the forefront for most Americans, but these fears are nothing new for Blue Star Moms who have spent decades holding their breath as their children are deployed.

Rhonda Hotard of St. James Parish is known to most in the River Region as the president and CEO of Louisiana Federal Credit Union. She’s also a veteran who served in Desert Storm in the late 80s and early 90s, and she’s the proud mother of a son who serves in the United States Marine Corps.

As treasurer of The Blue Star Mothers of Louisiana Chapter One, Hotard is part of a network of military mothers who commemorate service members year-round. Special attention is given to the Gold Star families of fallen soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“Right now, what’s happening in Ukraine is all over the news, so it’s top of mind. This is nothing new for us. We have kids deployed all over right now, so we’re very used to it,” Hotard said. “For us, it brings about a little bit more sensitivity, but it’s something that we live in all the time. In between these major news stories, there are things we know are going on that never get published on national and local news.”

Hotard often tells people that she’s proud to be a veteran, but she’s so much more proud to be the mom of a Marine. The mix of emotions makes her look back and wonder how her parents coped with her enlisting more than 30 years ago, when communication was nothing like it is today. Even now, military mothers may go months without contact from their children, never knowing if they are in harm’s way.

“You kind of live in that constant fear of hoping and wondering and praying you never get that knock on the door. You just pray that they come home safely. There’s many that don’t. Once they step off that bus, you can start breathing again,” Hotard said. “What I learned once I became a mother of a child serving in the military is what a close community it is…It doesn’t matter where your kid may be; if they are in the United States and there’s a need, I always felt like I could make one simple post on Facebook and my child would be taken care of.”

Even as a veteran, Hotard had never heard of Blue Star Moms until someone noticed her “Marine Mom” T-shirt in Walgreen’s and asked if she was part of the organization. She learned the closest chapter to the River Parishes was Chapter One in Baton Rouge, the first Blue Star Mothers chapter to be chartered in Louisiana.

The Blue Star Moms help each other, especially new mothers coming in, with the unknown of what their child is facing. Beyond that, Blue Star Moms support the military as a whole.

“We do several events throughout the year, but I think one of the most sacred duties that we have is that we support our Gold Star families,” Hotard said. “It’s the ultimate sacrifice, and we feel very strongly that their children’s sacrifice should never be forgotten.”

One event involves a wreath-laying ceremony with a goal to honor, remember and teach the next generation about sacrifice. During another event, 11,000 American flags are planted in front of the state capital for Memorial Day weekend. Each Gold Star family receives a flag to plant in memory of their loved one.

While the flag and wreath-laying events are open to the public, Blue Star Mothers also hosts a private luncheon for Gold Star families for Mother’s Day.

Each February, the Blue Star Moms give back to the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in Reserve with an event called “Socks of Love.” Volunteers give out socks, bananas, cookies and Valentine’s candy while taking time to listen to the veterans and thank them for their service.

Matherne’s Supermarket in Paulina donated bananas for the recent event. This year marked the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that the donations were distributed in person.

Another Blue Star Moms event called “Our Community Salutes” brings together families of high school seniors who have enlisted and shares the vast support system that exists in Southeast Louisiana.

That support continues even after veterans have returned home.

“On average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Those who come home physically often come home broken,” Hotard said. “If you know of anyone who has served, reach out and let them know that you care about them and what they’ve done matters.”

Individuals who would like to join the Blue Star Moms must first join The Blue Star Mothers of America. With meetings held via Zoom, locals can participate in monthly meetings without having to travel to Baton Rouge.

For more information, email Hotard at treasurer@bluestarmoms.net or visit https://bluestarmoms.net.