Fort Rucker agency, event support Gold Star Families
Representatives from SOS and Directorate of Family, Morale, Wellness and Recreation paint Sgt. Ted E. Bear March 24 in recognition of survivors of fallen service members.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 28, 2014) -- It can be a hard thing watching a loved one join the military during wartime and departing to serve the country in a faraway land.

But Families, according to many Army leaders, are the backbone of America's military forces, and those Families whose service member gave the ultimate sacrifice will always be a part of the Army Family and it is important that they recognize that, explained Beth Gunter, survivor outreach services financial counselor.

Survivor Outreach Services is a program created specifically to provide long-term service and support to survivors of fallen Soldiers. SOS offers standardized services for active, Reserve and Army National Guard Families. The program uses a holistic and multi-agency approach to deliver services across the nation.

Gunter hopes that Gold Star Families know that they have not been forgotten and that the Army cares and wants them to remain a part of its Family.

"No one knows the price of freedom more than our Gold Star Family members," said Gunter. "Our mission is to build a unified program that embraces and reassures them that they will be continually linked to the Army Family for as long as they desire. Our fallen Soldiers have paid the ultimate sacrifice and the Army is committed to their Families."

Many people see the parking designations for Gold Star Family members or the specials that they receive around the community, but do not understand what it means to be a Gold Star Family member.

A Gold Star Family member is a spouse, parent or other relative of a fallen service member, and they are allowed to wear the pin to signify that a Family member was killed in combat operations, while the Next of Kin lapel pin is worn by surviving Family members whose Soldier lost their lives while serving on active duty or while assigned in an Army Reserve or Army National Guard unit in a drill status, clarified Gunter.

"When you see someone wearing one of the Gold Star pins, recognize, respect and honor them for their service and sacrifice. Acknowledgment and words of encouragement mean a lot to survivors," she said.

In keeping with their commitment to aiding surviving Families, SOS offers many programs and events to strengthen the relationship between them and the military through specials like the Never Forgotten Cards, and the Survivors and Fallen Heroes 5K.

"Cards are free for Family members whose loved ones died while on an active-duty status in any U.S. military branch or of a service-connected disability. Children and siblings must be 18 years or younger to receive cards," said Gunter.

This year's run, where runners wear fabric gold stars bearing the names of fallen Soldiers, will be held April 5, with the race beginning at 8 a.m. Day of registration begins a 6:30 a.m. Cost of the run is $20 if participants register by March 29 and $25 after Saturday.

The 1-mile fun run for children is free.

While nothing can ease the pain or loss of losing a child or spouse, Gunter said that for many Family members knowing the Army honors them helps them feel connected to their loved one.

"(These events) give us the opportunity to show survivors that their loved one is not forgotten. We want to honor those who have fallen," she said.

Keeping the memories of those lost alive is something that Gunter said is one of the most important things about special events, and that the run should mean a little more than other runs that Fort Rucker hosts.

"The run is designed to honor survivors and those that have made the ultimate sacrifice, so it is a little more of a somber race," she said. "It has a special place in many people's hearts because it's not really about who wins-- it's about remembering and honoring the Soldiers."

Gunter said that SOS reaches out to all survivors to provide services and answer whatever questions they may have for a lifetime, rather than just a period of time after a Soldier has fallen.

SOS was set in motion on Fort Rucker in 2008 when the Army realized that even though a grieving Family has a casualty assistance officer to help them through the initial stages of losing a service member, the Family still has issues well after the CAO has done their job, she explained.

"Come out and join us for the run, it will mean quite a bit to those Families," she added.

To learn more about SOS, Never Forgotten Cards or the Survivors and Fallen Heroes 5K, call 255-9637 or 255-9639, or visit www.ftruckermwr.com/acs/survivor-outreach-services.

Page last updated Fri March 28th, 2014 at 00:00