HEROES Fund returns to the forefront - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

HEROES Fund returns to the forefront

August 15, 2005

Albany-- After two South Georgia National Guardsmen were buried this weekend, there's no doubt the area has been hit hard by deaths among the 48th Brigade.

In addition to tragedy, many families are facing financial hardships while their spouses are away. But there is a new, simple way all Georgians can pitch in and help.

Under a new state law, Georgians can donate money to National Guard families by simply checking a box on their income tax returns.

The legislation was passed in March, but the deaths among the 48th Brigade has put the HEROES Fund back in the spotlight.

Though Lashonta Williams' husband was just home for an emergency leave, she and her three children miss him already. "He had to leave Saturday past to return back to his mission. It was a hard adjustment," she says.

But adjusting to his absence is only half of what Williams is dealing with. She, like many other military spouses, is living on a tight budget, because for many of the citizen-soldiers of the 48th Brigade, being called to active duty meant a pay cut.

"When they left you were maintaining a certain lifestyle, and when they got called to duty majority did get pay cuts, and you have to adjust your living expenses," Williams says.

The recent National Guard casualties have also put family members on edge, wanting to hear from their soldiers as soon as possible, but the reassuring phone call to Iraq comes with a heafty price tag. "You call them and the rates vary depending on the phone company that you are with, and unfortunately in this area there aren't too many choices that you have."

Williams pays between $0.77 to $1.25 a minute. Her telephone bill is $500, and she knows other wives whose bills are twice that much. "You're basically stuck with whatever they give you, and in time bills get higher and higher over the months."

That's why families hope relief efforts like the Helpful Economic Relief for Our Exceptional Soliders, or HEROES Trust Fund will take off. Starting next year, Georgians will be able to check a box on their income tax returns to allow them to contribute directly to the fund.

The money will then be given out as grants to military families in need. "The people of the communities and the businesses just don't know how much we really do appreciate the support. It's encouraging to know that there are other people out there that care about what you're going through," says Williams.

But the funds are still a long way from being given to families, so in the meantime, spouses like Williams say they will do their best to juggle home, work, life without their loved ones, and mounting bills.

Supporters say the income tax check off system could bring in up to $4 million. The tax relief check-off system was introduced by Senator Tim Golden of Valdosta, the hometown of two National Guardsmen who were killed by roadside bombs in Iraq.

Contributions can be designated to the 48th, or can go to general fund for all soldiers.

Mail checks to:

GA National Guard Family Support Foundation
ATTN: Col. Ed Wexler
GA Department of Defense
Post Office Box 17965
Atlanta, GA 30316

On the Internet, you can link to National Guard Foundation.

Feedback: news@walb.com

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