The Hillside Lodge provided a cozy setting Jan. 23 for survivors of fallen Soldiers to come together for a time of fellowship and sharing.

Participants were joined by Soldier and Family Assistance Center and Casualty Affairs Center representatives and other Fort Drum leaders for the first of many Survivor Outreach Services fireside chats.

The gathering was a casual, open forum format so surviving Family Members could feel comfortable speaking openly about the care they have received since losing their loved ones. They were able to share candid observations and advice on how to make the casualty assistance process less stressful.

"The Army never did me wrong, and I never felt slighted, but constant improvement is always good," said Kate J. Tuliau, who participated in the fireside chat. "It was really nice, and I felt very relaxed. Everyone was able to speak."

Sonny Mitchell, SFAC director, said the advice they gave was extremely valuable and would be put to use.

"Our survivor Family provided crucial insight that will allow us to make positive changes to the processes, programs and services we provide them here at Fort Drum and hopefully influence change across the Army," he said. "We learned a lot from them, from each individual's experience, about what we could do better.

"Just from that gathering, Fort Drum has already instituted some policy changes," Mitchell added. "Members of the command were there to listen and were very supportive. Col. (Kenneth H.) Riddle, (garrison commander), already took care of an issue regarding moving reimbursement and is changing policy."

Another reason for the fireside chat was to let participants know what programs and services are available to them through the SFAC's Survivor Outreach program.

"We wanted to reach out and hug them and say, 'We're still here for you. You're family to us, and family takes care of family,'" Mitchell said. "We also want to get the word out to other survivors who live in the community that they can call us, that we are a direct support link to nonmedical services.

"But we can only do something with the information we are given," he added. "For example, people move, and we don't know how to get a hold of them to offer our support."

Mitchell said those who came were not only helpful during the gathering, but also offered ongoing support. They volunteered to speak to those being trained in casualty assistance, as well as to family readiness groups and care teams, which are teams of Family Members who offer support to survivors and help with immediate needs after a Soldier is killed.

"We owe a debt to the Families of our fallen that can never be repaid," he said. "We are honored by their presence and their desire to help us help others (who) suffer through the loss of a loved one."

Tuliau said spending time with others who have gone through the same thing was empowering.
"I wanted to know other survivors out there like me," she said. "It gives you power. You feed off each other. I can see that they are doing OK, and it reminds me: we are going to be OK."

Page last updated Thu February 5th, 2009 at 09:42