ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day, held on the last Sunday in September, is a day for Americans to recognize and honor the Families of Fallen Soldiers. All across the country, government buildings, offices, churches and homes will display the American Flag as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of Gold Star Families.

Maryland Gold Star Mothers Chapter President and Chaplain Janice Chance said Gold Star Mothers and Family members will gather from across the country for a wreath laying ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and attend a Gold Star Mother's and Family's Day ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. During the visit to the cemetery, Gold Star Mothers will lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at Section 60, the area designated for troops killed most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Chance said American Gold Star Mothers carry their son's and daughter's legacy by supporting Soldiers, veterans and their Families through volunteerism.

"We believe in honoring through service," Chance said. "Volunteering is therapeutic. When you start serving other people it is hard to stay depressed; your focus becomes the people you are helping."

Support at APG

Chance said she is grateful for the unwavering support Gold Star Families receive from the APG community. She attributes this to supportive senior leadership. This year, APG has implemented a quarterly luncheon for Survivors. This luncheon provides attendees with information from Survivor Outreach Services and other services on post. The event also gives Families the opportunity to share experiences and comfort each other.

"APG has been our saving grace, we have become part of the Family," Chance said. "We get the royal treatment here."

Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator Annette Sanders, from Army Community Service, said she considers it a privilege to serve Survivor Families. She encourages Survivors to get involved at APG and attend on-post events.

Carmelita Johnson, who lost her husband, 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson earlier this year to an illness, said she finds comfort knowing that she will always be welcome at APG. She occasionally volunteers on post and her sons Phillip, 5, and Christopher, 8, are active in the Child, Youth and School Services Sports programs.

"Staying involved with the military community helps us maintain a sense of normalcy," she said. "It helps to stay busy."

The Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) program provides long-term support for all survivors. Spouses, children, parents, siblings and friends who are grieving the loss of a Soldier are eligible to receive services, regardless of how the Soldier died. All Army active duty, National Guard, Reserve component and other military branch Survivors are eligible for SOS services. The Army is the only military branch with a dedicated program for Survivors.

Sanders said that APG has done great things to support Families of Fallen Soldiers. For instance, APG now issues identification cards to Gold Star Family members that allow them to bypass the Visitor's Center. Also, there are designated parking spaces at many on-post locations for Survivors.

"APG feels like home," said Gold Star Mother Cindy Lohman. "I am grateful APG does such a phenomenal job reaching out to local Gold Star Mothers and Families. It helps to reach out to other Gold Star Families, because we share similar experiences."

Sanders said children of Fallen Soldiers can also participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Military Mentoring Program. This program supports children ages 7-16 of active duty military personnel of all branches and components including National Guard and Reserve, on or off post. Anyone interested in the program should contact Stacie Umbarger, from CYSS, 410-278-4589.

For more information on the SOS program, contact Sanders at 410-278-2861, or e-mail casandra.a.sanders-nash.civ@ mail.mil.

Page last updated Wed October 9th, 2013 at 00:00