Program Provides Support for Fallen Soldiers' Families
(December 5, 2010)
Gold Star Mother Sheila
Patton, senior advisor for the Survivor Outreach
Services program at Fort Campbell, Ky., left,
lights a memorial candle with assistance from
Loreta Guzman, SOS financial counselor, during a
candlelight vigil at the post's McAuliffe Hall
on Dec. 2, 2010. SOS hosted the ceremony to
honor mothers who have lost a child serving in
the armed forces. U.S. Army photo by Megan Locke
|WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 –
Inside a one-story building undergoing
renovations at the far side of the commissary
parking lot here, families of fallen soldiers
are getting the support and services they need
and reassurance that the Army won't forget them
or their sacrifices.
The building, the new home of Fort Campbell's
Survivor Outreach Services program, offers a
haven for about 1,000 Gold Star family members
throughout Tennessee and in much of Kentucky.
It's being equipped as a “home away from home,”
with a kitchen and dining room, computer room,
play area for children, a game room for
teenagers and on-site child-care services.
A Hall of Remembrance being built within the
facility will honor the fallen servicemembers
who have brought these families together. Each
family will contribute a photograph of their
loved one to be displayed in the hall.
Suzy Yates, interim Survivor Outreach Services
program manager, said the idea is to make
families feel comfortable and welcomed as they
tap into the support, information and services
available to help them as they deal with their
The Army launched the program servicewide in
October 2008 to enhance its care and support for
families of the
fallen. Fort Campbell, home of the 101st
Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles,” unveiled
its own program in 2009, tailoring it to the
needs identified by focus groups of surviving
The staff brings a broad range of expertise to
help families. Benefits coordinators provide
expertise on local, state and federal benefits.
Working with casualty assistance officers, they
help surviving families apply for benefits
they're entitled to. Financial counselors help
them through investment and estate planning.
Support coordinators provide long-term support,
facilitating support groups, providing life
skills education and connecting survivors with
“This should be a one-stop shop for our
families, where they can access all the
resources available to help them through a
difficult time,” Yates said.
Meanwhile, the SOS program also offers what
Yates said is often the most-valued support
service of all: a community of families who
share the same sense of loss. “They want to know
they are not alone,” she said.
Families take comfort in each other during a
host of activities organized through SOS, from
support group sessions to candlelight vigils for
their loved ones to social events that enable
them to let their hair down and have fun.
“There's a sense of understanding they find in
each other that creates a very special bond,”
Sheila Patton, whose son, Army Staff Sgt. James
R. “Jimmy” Patton, died April 18 in a helicopter
crash in Tikrit, Iraq, serves as senior advisor
for Fort Campbell's SOS program.
“This is long-term, and it is much-needed,” she
said. “The staff is phenomenal over there. They
are doing everything they can for surviving
family members: spouses, children, parents,
siblings. They are reaching out and trying to
Yates said the program underscores the Army's
enduring commitment to surviving families.
Families “want to know that the Army is not
going to forget them,” she said.
“And that is what the Survivor Outreach Services
program was put in place to do: stay in contact
with families and let them know, ‘Your soldier
paid the ultimate sacrifice, and the Army is not
going to forget your family,'” she added. “We
will always take care of you. And there will
always be a place for you to go.”
In October, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W.
Casey Jr. emphasized that point to surviving
family members attending the Association of the
U.S. Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition in
Washington. “You need to know that your loved
one's sacrifice is both recognized and
appreciated and won't be forgotten,” he said.
Mary Byers, a Gold Star Mother, and her grandson, Joshua Gunnar, enjoy a Disney Toy Story on Ice show outing with other families, one of many social events sponsored through the Survivor Outreach program. Byer's son, Army Capt. Joshua Byers, was killed in Iraq July 23, 2003, his mother's 50th birthday. Courtesy photo
|For Mary Byers, whose son, Army
Capt. Joshua Byers, was killed July 23, 2003, by
a roadside bomb as he convoyed from Ramadi to
Fallujah in Iraq, the SOS program offers a
connection to the military she'd thought was
lost. Her son, who was assigned to Headquarters
Troop, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Armored Calvary
Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., was
married, which essentially cut his mother and
father out of the military's information and
“We felt like the military had deserted us,”
Byers said. She noted that the military has made
amends, now assigning casualty assistance
officers to parents of married soldiers and
keeping them in the information loop.
Byers, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., said she
was thrilled when Fort Campbell's new SOS
program reached out to her and her husband. The
staff helped them get passes to drive onto the
post without having to check into the visitor's
center every time they attend an SOS function,
offered financial planning services, and
introduced them to other Gold Star families.
Now Byers attends as many SOS events as
possible, and enjoys getting phone calls and
friendly e-mails from the SOS staff to check in
on her and see if there's anything they can do
to help. “It means a lot to me to know that
somebody cares,” she said. “This connection
really means a lot.”
Casey noted at the AUSA convention that the SOS
program is still in its infancy and will
continue to develop to meet family members'
needs. Recognizing that “grieving is a very
individual process,” he said, noting
there's no “cookie-cutter solution” that works
Families served through SOS are at different phases of the
grieving process, Yates noted. Some are brought to the SOS
office by their casualty assistance officer, the pain of
their loved one's funeral still fresh in their minds.
As Fort Campbell's SOS staff makes contact with families of
the fallen in their geographic area –- regardless of what
service their loved one served in and whether or not the
death was combat related -- Yates said she has been
surprised to hear from widows dating back to the Vietnam
Although the program was initiated to serve families who
have lost a servicemember since 9/11, “we do not turn any
surviving family member away,” she said. Similarly, there's
no definitive amount of time that families will want to
remain connected to the SOS program, Yates added.
“The surviving family determines how much or how little
contact they have,” she said. “As they go through the
grieving process, it's all up to them. We will always be
there for them, as little or as much as they want. We will
be there today, tomorrow, 10 years from now. Whenever they
want assistance, we are here for them.”
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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