Taking care of Army families
March 5, 2010
- The meeting reviewed concerns of surviving family members, and plans for providing better and more comprehensive support services.
- "Everywhere I go I try to get a general sense of whether we are reaching out to Gold Star families and a sense of how we are doing."
- Besides talking about their concerns, family members also shared memories of their loved ones.
- "This is about making sure everybody who is close to fallen Soldiers is recognized and taken care of."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- During his visit to Redstone Arsenal, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Installation Management Command, took the time to focus in on the spouses, parents and other family members of Soldiers from North Alabama who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
And sitting right next to him at a meeting with these family members was Emily McFall, the widow of a Soldier who died on the battlefield while under LynchAca,!a,,cs command.
It was the first time McFall, who now works for Army Community Service as the Survivor Outreach Service coordinator, and Lynch had met. But it wasnAca,!a,,ct long before the two of them were working together at the Feb. 23 meeting at ACS to bring out the concerns of surviving family members, and to discuss plans for providing better and more comprehensive support services to families who must live through the grief of losing their Soldier.
Aca,!A"As I travel, I make it a point to talk to Gold Star families,Aca,!A? said Lynch, who has visited several installations since being promoted to IMCOM commander in the fall of 2009.
Aca,!A"I start every day in prayer. I have 153 cards with faces of 153 Soldiers who died under my command. Your (McFallAca,!a,,cs) husbandAca,!a,,cs picture is on one of those cards. I look at it every day Aca,!A| Gen. (George) Casey (chief of staff of the Army) put me in this position to truly take care of our Soldiers, their families and civilians. At the top of my list are the Gold Star families.Aca,!A?
Gold Star families are those who have lost a Soldier while in service to the country. Meeting with Lynch was McFall, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Thomas McFall, 36, died May 28, 2007, from wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his position in Baghdad, Iraq; Jenna Henderson, whose husband, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Henderson, 35, died June 17, 2007, in Afghanistan from wounds he sustained when an IED detonated near his vehicle; Tiffany Little, whose husband, Spc. Kyle Little, 20, died May 8, 2007, in Iraq of wounds he sustained when an IED detonated near his vehicle; Leroy and Darlene Rath, and Kimberly Taylor, parents and fiancAfAe of Staff Sgt. Josh Rath, 22, who was killed in Afghanistan on Jan. 8, 2009 when a bomb detonated at an open bazaar; and Terry Bridges, father of Pvt. Michael Paul Bridges, who committed suicide on Nov. 2, 2006, while stationed in Iraq with his unit from Fort Hood, Texas.
Also participating in the meeting were Redstone Arsenal and Aviation and Missile Command commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles and his wife Alice, Garrison commander Col. Bob Pastorelli and his wife Anna, ACS director Sue Paddock, Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation director Derrick Gould, and a few other Garrison employees.
The meeting was personal and productive, touching on the concerns of surviving family members that, if acted upon, will make the Army a kinder and more family connected institution. Besides talking about their concerns, family members also shared memories of their loved ones. Lynch set the tone for the meeting by opening with his own comments on the personal anguish he struggles with daily.
Aca,!A"There are 153 Soldiers who died in combat on a battlefield where I placed them,Aca,!A? Lynch said, referring to his most recent assignment as the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) and Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. As the divisionAca,!a,,cs commander, Lynch led a deployment that was part of President George BushAca,!a,,cs surge, assuming command of the southern Baghdad area of operations as the Multi-National Division Center in April 2007. It was during this deployment that McFallAca,!a,,cs husband was killed.
Aca,!A"We were there at the point of tragedy (for the families of the 153 Soldiers). We continued with our lives, but you continued with the tragedy,Aca,!A? Lynch said.
It is LynchAca,!a,,cs hope that the Army can work to ease some of the emotional trauma that families of fallen Soldiers must endure.
Aca,!A"I oversee 163 installations. We have a database of 25,000 Gold Star family members whose Soldiers have died since 9/11,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Everywhere I go I try to get a general sense of whether we are reaching out to Gold Star families and a sense of how we are doing.Aca,!A?
In his travels, Lynch has confirmed some general ideas about surviving family members. Often, they tend to migrate, being located on an installation at the time of the tragedy but then soon moving on to relocate closer to family members or to a location that gives them a fresh start.
They also respond better to Army programs that are staffed with other surviving family members who understand their loss.
Aca,!A"ThatAca,!a,,cs why it is important for us to hire surviving family members like Emily McFall for our outreach programs,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Survivors relate better to survivors.Aca,!A?
Lynch also said survivors need a place of their own on each installation where they can come together for meetings, social events and services.
Family members at the meeting expressed their appreciation for the support theyAca,!a,,cve received from the Army.
Aca,!A"The ArmyAca,!a,,cs been really great to us,Aca,!A? said Leroy Rath. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs beyond anything weAca,!a,,cve expected. A lot of times, fiancAfAs get left out in the cold. But General Myles has made sure Kimberly (Taylor) has not been left out in the cold.Aca,!A?
Lynch said he has heard comments from some family members Aca,!" specifically, mothers and fathers Aca,!" who have felt left out of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs support network, which historically has focused on the spouses and children of deceased Soldiers.
Aca,!A"This is the first time, though, that IAca,!a,,cve heard a comment about fiancAfAs,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"And thatAca,!a,,cs good that youAca,!a,,cve been included and that you donAca,!a,,ct feel left out.Aca,!A?
ItAca,!a,,cs important to include a SoldierAca,!a,,cs fiancAfA because Aca,!A"she is the one who wrote to him every day and kept his morale up,Aca,!A? Darlene Rath said. Aca,!A"She has not been left out because of us and General Myles.Aca,!A?
Those kinds of specific comments were exactly what Lynch was seeking during the meeting.
Aca,!A"Every day I ask myself Aca,!EoeWhatAca,!a,,cs missing'Aca,!a,,cAca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"There are survivors, family members, fiancAfAs, best friends out there right now going through emotional turmoil and weAca,!a,,cve forgotten about them Aca,!A| This is about making sure everybody who is close to fallen Soldiers is recognized and taken care of. For legal reasons they may not be. But we can blow through legal reasons at the local level.Aca,!A?
The families also talked about TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), which is a national, non-profit agency that provides survivor counseling, seminars, financial information, support and online chat groups. They talked about Alabama Gold Star Families, a nonprofit support group formed in 2007, and about the support theyAca,!a,,cve received through ACS.
McFall, Henderson and Little told Lynch about the on-post survivorAca,!a,,cs support group that they started in the summer of 2008, known as My Soldier, My Fallen Hero.
According to ACS figures, there are 65 Soldiers from the 11 North Alabama counties who have been killed since 9/11. Those Soldiers are represented by just over 100 family members.
Aca,!A"Our goal is to reach out as far as we can go to support survivors. We want to reach out past our area,Aca,!A? McFall said of her work with Survivor Outreach Services programs. Aca,!A"We want to bring a regional meeting of TAPS here. We want to host a survivorAca,!a,,cs conference in Huntsville. We want to bring survivors together.Aca,!A?
Lynch, who believes there are more than 65 fallen Soldiers from North Alabama, committed to helping McFall and ACS locate the names of all Soldier family survivors now living in North Alabama and the surrounding area.
Organizing Soldier family survivors into a support group would be beneficial to all, the group agreed.
Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs not a club you necessarily want to join,Aca,!A? Bridges said. Aca,!A"But once you are in it, you want to be there to help each other and give each other strength.Aca,!A?
BridgesAca,!a,,c son survived an improvised explosive ordnance attack in Iraq only to succumb to suicide some months later.
Aca,!A"ThereAca,!a,,cs not enough emphasis from the military on situations where suicide is involved,Aca,!A? Bridges said. Aca,!A"The military needs to do a better job reaching out to those families. Except for TAPS, there is no outreach for those family members of suicide victims.Aca,!A?
Future SOS activities planned through RedstoneAca,!a,,cs ACS will include family members of all fallen Soldiers as well as friends and fellow Soldiers, if possible. Also on the Aca,!A"to doAca,!A? list for SOS will be to coordinate a Gold Medal of Remembrance ceremony for the children and younger siblings of fallen Soldiers in North Alabama, to establish a peer group for these children and to assist them in getting needed counseling.
Aca,!A"My son had three younger siblings,Aca,!A? Darlene Rath said. Aca,!A"Each needs counseling. Each one of them Aca,!" their life fell apart.Aca,!A?
The SOS program will also work to provide the families of fallen Soldiers with financial and family life counseling, and to ensure sensitivity to the issues of these families. Suggestions included giving the spouses of fallen Soldiers preference in Army civilian job positions and establishing a memorial garden on post for fallen Soldiers.
Another suggestion involved working with Tricare to change the three-year anniversary on health benefits changes so that it doesnAca,!a,,ct fall directly on the anniversary of a SoldierAca,!a,,cs death but rather later in the month or a few months out.
Aca,!A"I got a letter from Tricare saying that my insurance will change to military retiree on the anniversary date of my husbandAca,!a,,cs death, May 8, 2007,Aca,!A? Little said. Aca,!A"I cried for a week over it. IAca,!a,,cm not upset about the benefit change, but I am upset about the date of the change. Now, when IAca,!a,,cm visiting the cemetery on his anniversary I will be thinking in the back of my mind that today my Tricare benefits are changing.Aca,!A?
Henderson suggested that the Tricare notification actually involve a personal phone call.
Aca,!A"I got my letter when I was studying for mid-terms,Aca,!A? she said. Aca,!A"Immediately, it brings everything back to the front. ItAca,!a,,cs also saying to me Aca,!EoeWe cared about you for three years and now we donAca,!a,,ct.Aca,!a,,cAca,!A?
Lynch left the meeting with 12 action items that he pledged he and his office would follow up on.
Aca,!A"This is very important to me and I appreciate you taking the time,Aca,!A? Lynch told the Gold Star family members. Aca,!A"You need to know you are all in our thoughts and our prayers.Aca,!A?
Many of those items will be worked on at the local level by Myles and Pastorelli.
Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cve got work to do. WeAca,!a,,cre going to police this up. WeAca,!a,,cre at the beginning of this,Aca,!A? Myles said. Aca,!A"This is the very beginning of what should have occurred. We have to get our arms around all of this.Aca,!A?
Lynch added that he is confident that Redstone Arsenal will take care of the families of the areaAca,!a,,cs fallen Soldiers.
Aca,!A"The leadership you have here is the best in the Army,Aca,!A? he said.
During his visit, Lynch also talked with military spouses and post leaders, met with outstanding Garrison employees and viewed the Arsenal on an aerial flight.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm proud of everyoneAca,!a,,cs performance and the support theyAca,!a,,cve provided for Garrison tenants and our Arsenal community,Aca,!A? Pastorelli said of his staff. Aca,!A"I believe Lt. Gen. Lynch left here with a great appreciation for our support to the Soldier and his or her family.Aca,!A?