Active, Reserve, Guard teams work together to help survivor families
October 29, 2010
<b>FORT JACKSON, S.C.</b> - Fallen Soldiers will never be forgotten.
It's one of the core pillars for all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the Army's active-duty, National Guard and Reserve components make it a point that families of fallen Soldiers are never forgotten.
Ensuring families' questions are answered, survivors are given a soft shoulder to lean on or just lending a simple helping hand is the sole mission of the Army's Survivor Outreach Services program.
The Army-wide program is designed to provide dedicated and comprehensive support to Survivors of deceased Soldiers, said Leslie Smith, Fort Jackson's active-component SOS coordinator.
"Here, in the Columbia area and South Carolina, it is important that all three components of the Army work together," Smith said about working together with her Army National Guard and Army Reserve counterparts. "This isn't about us and what we do as individual components, but rather we are one team helping our families that need assistance -- one helping hand."
Although the three Survivor Outreach Services offices are in separate locations and each coordinator performs slightly different duties, they regularly come together to assist each other and bounce ideas off of one another.
Smith, along with the South Carolina Army National Guard's Beth Carney and the Army Reserve's Megan McCullough, who works with the 81st Regional Support Command, recently met to discuss an upcoming holiday gathering for area survivors.
Brochures, folders and stacks of miscellaneous paperwork filled the table as Carney and McCullough found a small clearing to highlight upcoming dates for future survivor-related events.
"We are in this together," said Carney. "Megan and Leslie both have different resources I may need in a particular situation that I may not have readily available to me. Each of us brings something to the table that is a huge multiplier for this program."
McCullough, former active-duty Army Captain and military spouse whose husband is currently deployed , said the SOS coordinator job is of critical importance, as the SOS program ensures that survivors are treated with the honor, dignity, and respect that they deserve.
"While I completely understand that I can never truly empathize with a survivor, I can offer my raw and honest sympathy and support," she said.
Smith, also a military spouse, said the program is not only a joint effort between the Guard and Reserve. It also includes the Installation Management Command; Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command; and Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center.
Working with all the different agencies and components allow McCullough and Carney to reach across to the active-component Army and tap into additional resources normally not available to the Reserve and National Guard.
"The Army Combat Uniform doesn't come in different colors depending on which component you serve with," said Carney. "We are here for every survivor in the area. We do not care if their loved one was Reserve, Guard or active duty; we will continue to help each other and ensure that we are providing the best care and service for our extended families."
The overall mission of SOS is to fulfill the Army Family Covenant by providing support to surviving families for as long as they desire, said McCullough.
"As a military spouse of a deployed Soldier, every day I face the realization that I could be a Gold Star wife," she said. "It is so important to me that I give the families I am serving the very best services that I can offer, as I know I would want the same services extended to me if I were to become a survivor."
Smith said the SOS program is extremely important and imperative that surviving families know the Army cares about them and wants them to be a part of the Army family as long as they desire.
SOS services provide long term support services for survivors, which include, but are not limited to, financial education, support groups, case management, referrals to grief counseling, and benefits information.
McCullough said each coordinator essentially serves as the conduit between the survivor and any military or non-military organization to help them reach the services available to them.
"Their loved ones fought and died next to active-duty, Guard and Reserve Soldiers," said McCullough. "Their families were all given the flag of the United States of America."
She said fallen Soldiers died for their country and gave the ultimate sacrifice. In return, all three SOS coordinators work, long hours ensuring South Carolina survivors have someone to lean on for support, advice and direction to deal with situations only survivors will understand.
"Our Army doesn't distinguish between the three components but has developed an amazing program to assist Army families in their time of need," McCullough said. "I have been given this amazing opportunity to help these families - something I will take with me for the rest of my journey in life."