WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - As the morning sunlight washes over Wheeler Army Airfield, soldiers of Company C, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, welcome some new additions to their physical training session. This was the first event of many that began the month of the military child.
This particular group of military spouses and children are a part of the Survivor Outreach Services Program, which was developed by the Army to help families of fallen soldiers hold onto a piece of the Army life.
The soldiers modified their normal PT session to bring some fun for the family members. They worked on their abdominal muscles with the hula hoop and cardio and leg muscles utilizing the jump rope.
"Events like this make me and my daughters feel connected to the military," said Brandy Williams, a widow whose husband died in Iraq. Her husband, Sgt. Eugene Williams, was the first service member Hawaii lost since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The purpose of SOS is to provide dedicated and comprehensive support services to survivors of deceased soldiers. SOS provides the Army with a useful tool to fulfill its promise of supporting survivors of fallen soldiers by providing the families with the support they need and allowing them to remain a vital part of the Army family.
SOS also brought the families out to get a first-hand experience with the UH-60 Black Hawk during a visit to Wheeler.
"These events are a great way to show our appreciation to the families of fallen soldiers. It brings me a lot of pride in being able to give back to the families," said 1st Lt. Christopher Golab, an aviator assigned to C/2-25 AVN, originally from Honolulu.
In continuing keeping families connected with the military, the SOS also hosted a "Bowling with Buddies" event which allowed the families to bond with soldiers outside of their military environment.
"Events like this are designed to make military children feel connected to the military after the loss of their soldiers," stated Lis Olsen, the Program manager for the SOS in Hawaii.
One of the ways SOS helps families through hard times is by introducing them to others who have gone through similar situations.
"Having had to face losing my son, Staff Sgt. Brandon Stagner, and not knowing what was to come, it was really devastating and filled me with anger, frustration and complete helplessness," said Dr. Ishmael Stagner, Hawaiian scholar, author, and lecturer. "Four years later, I get to work with young families who are experiencing the same thing as I did. I am not happy that we are connected by grief, but I am comforted knowing the Army cares for children like this."
Many of the families look for ways to keep the memory of their soldier alive.
"We looked at pictures of him, went to memorial services, and events hosted by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors," recalled Williams. "We have been participating in events similar to this for about five to six years. They really help us keep his memory alive and stay connected with the Army."
Keeping the memory of her husband alive has given Williams the experience to help others through hard times as well.
"It was hard in the beginning. My heart went out to the new families," Williams remembered. "I knew that the road ahead was going to be difficult, but I could help them based on our experiences. I know the journey is different for everybody, but we are living proof you can survive. All you have to do is take it one day at a time."