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NEWS | June 12, 2009

Wives and mothers of fallen Illinois Guard Soldiers enjoy a day of pampering

By U.S. Army Staff Sgt. April Hawes Illinois National Guard

CHICAGO - Some lost a son. Others lost a husband. All lost someone who meant the world to them. While they mourned, people told them it was time to think about themselves.

"You forget about yourself.

You're not a priority," said Rashmi Grieco of Bartlett, wife of Illinois Army National Guard fallen hero Staff Sgt. Kevin Grieco. "But it's okay to spoil yourself once in a while."

Kevin, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 122nd Field Artillery in Sycamore, was killed in action in Afghanistan Oct. 27.

Rashmi and five other Illinois Army National Guard Gold Star wives and mothers had the unique opportunity yesterday to have a day of pampering during the USO of Illinois' Diva for a Day event.

The day started at the Daley Plaza in Chicago at the U.S. Army's 234th birthday celebration. At the event, Dan Grant, Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs director, recognized the women and the sacrifice their loved ones have made for their country.

"Honoring that sacrifice is our lifelong responsibility," he said. After the birthday celebration, the divas had lunch at Rhapsody Restaurant and then headed to Dana Spa and Hotel for manicures, pedicures, facials and massages.

The night concluded with a cocktail party at the Crimson Lounge at Hotel Sax and an overnight stay at the Union League Club of Chicago.

Planning for the event began in March during a small USO of Illinoi business meeting. Alison Rubel, USO of Illinois community and entertainment director, said the day was arranged around "recharging the soul" of the women who have lost their sons or husbands in action.

"The day is just for them," Rubel said. "We hope that they know they're not alone. People care about them. The USO cares about them."

Rubel said the event was possible because people simply stepped up to theplate and did not hesitate to donate their time and services for these women.

When Jonathan McCabe, general manager of the Union League Club of Chicago, heard about the event, he said it was something the club just had to do.

"It was an opportunity to provide comfort and show respect to the woman who have lost so much.

It was not something we could pass up," McCabe, who also serves on the USO of Illinois Board, said. "I hope for a brief moment that we help in the healing process."

All of the women who took part in the day brought a friend along for the experience.

Barbara Abeyta of Midlothian, mother of fallen hero Sgt. Christopher Abeyta, asked her sister, Tracy Lohmar, to join her for the diva day.

Christopher, who was assigned to 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry in Woodstock, was killed in action in Afghanistan March 15.

Lohmar, of Braidwood, said when Barbara was first asked to be part of the event, she said no because she didn't feel like she was a diva. But after some consideration, she agreed to take a day for her and her sister to enjoy.

Although Lohmar said it was a very emotional day for her sister and the other women involved, she thought it was a good opportunity to listen to other women who were going through similar situations.

"I think it's a good thing all the mothers and wives got together," Lohmar said. "I think (Barbara) feels the Army is truly there for her."

At the end of the night when the glitz and glamour subsided there was still one thing on Rashmi's mind: her husband.

"The most important thing is my husband. I won't forget him," she said.

"He was a great father, a great husband. He was dedicated to me. I'm proud he's a hero and I'm proud he's my husband."