Statewide initiative supports troops

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 3, 2004

"You're going to be fine," Governor Bob Riley told Bonnie Bearden as she and her husband stepped to the podium.

Though the governor's reassurance was nice, it wasn't necessary.

Bearden, who overcame financial hardship, a potentially deadly blood clot and her husband's deployment to Kuwait, already knew that she'd be fine.

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"Everything is looking good, it was all worth it," said Bearden, who lives with her family just north of Selma in Plantersville. "I'm getting better everyday, it's just going to be a long road."

On Wednesday in Montgomery, Riley announced the creation of Operation Grateful Heart, a statewide initiative to show public appreciation and support for Alabama troops deployed overseas and their families back home.

The program comes, in part, as a result of the Bearden family's trials.

"Governor Riley said 'you're the reason that all this is going on,'" Bearden said. "Don't give me the glory, God's the one making all this possible.

God's the one that's opened their hearts and it just goes to show you there still is kindness, goodness and humanity."

Under this new program, returning troops and the families of deployed personnel will be able to receive assistance and answers to questions they may have about re-entry into the workforce, health benefits and support organizations.

Helping local communities organize events to honor troops and demonstrate support for their service will also be part of the program.

"It's geared to keeping them from being worried when there's some need," Bearden said. "Alabama's the first state to put this kind of program in place."

"Through Operation Grateful Heart, Alabama will be doing everything it can to support our troops, support their families, help them overcome the unique hardships they face and express our eternal gratitude," Governor Riley said. "As a state, we are committed to connecting our brave men and women in uniform and their families with whatever help they need."

"It's going to be a very good program, they can get help a lot easier than we had to go about getting help," Bonnie's husband Tracy said.

The Bearden's ordeal began late last fall. Tracy had been deployed to Kuwait since April, but Bonnie was diagnosed with a blood clot in her lung.

Without surgery, the clot would have killed her.

While still caring for two children back home, Bearden faced the challenge of raising enough money to get herself to San Diego for the surgery.

Tracy kept up to date via phone calls as best he could, but he was still half a world away from his ailing wife.

"It was very stressful," he said.

"We had lots of long distance phone bills," Bonnie added.

Luckily, she had plenty of friends to help.

SouthTrust Bank set up a Bonnie Bearden Medical Fund while her family and church rallied behind her. One friend sent an email to Riley and that set the wheels in motion for Operation Grateful Heart.

Governor Riley's office contacted the U.S. Army and the American Red Cross to arrange for Sergeant Bearden to receive emergency leave so he could come home to care for his family.

Then the Governor's Office worked with non-profit organizations that assisted the Beardens with their travel and lodging expenses in San Diego, where Mrs. Bearden could receive treatment.

The surgery was a success. Tracy was allowed to stay home and care for his family.

On Wednesday, the Beardens celebrated their good fortune with some of the people that made it possible.

"All these dignitaries, heads of organizations, you couldn't have imagined the people," Bonnie said. "Everybody was just super sweet, super nice. It's a wonderful program. I kinda wanted to cry at times. When you think about it and you're listening to it and you wonder if their really talking about meŠ I'm just one person in Selma, Alabama that needed a little help."