REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- On a sunny, crisp winter day, Redstone Arsenal's newest three-star general reached out to families who daily live the meaning behind the Army's values of courage, selfless service and sacrifice.

He wasn't an official participant in the Jan. 6 ribbon cutting ceremony for the Arsenal's new Survivor Outreach Services facility. But Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, the newly appointed commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, and his wife Diane made sure to be present when the ribbon was cut to officially open the SOS facility adjacent to Army Community Service, building 3338 on Redeye Road.

Formica made the rounds through the crowd's survivor families - known as Gold Star families - expressing his condolences, asking questions about fallen Soldiers and learning about the family members who have sacrificed so much for the Army.

"We are so glad you are here," he told Annette and Charlie Hall, the parents of fallen Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hall. "We are sorry for your loss. Part of our message is we don't want to forget. Our challenge is living up to that after 10 years of war."

Formica was among several Army and community dignitaries - including Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Association of the U.S. Army Redstone-Huntsville chapter president Steve Taylor and Congressman Robert Aderholt's district field representative Daniel Tidwell - present at the SOS ribbon cutting.

But dignitaries took a back seat to those who the ribbon cutting truly represented - the families of fallen Soldiers.

"We are here for you," Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton said. "We are here to remember the sacrifice of your loved ones and the sacrifice you endure every day as you forge ahead in life. We are here to declare very publicly that we remember, that we will never forget, that we will always claim you as a member of the military family and we acknowledge our eternal responsibility to care for our families."

Through the history of the military, families of fallen servicemembers have banded together, providing each other support and assistance through trying times. The Army, too, has been there for families, providing assistance through its Army Community Service.

But in 2008, the Army officially mandated the establishment of Survivor Outreach Services as an outgrowth of the Army Family Action Plan. While ACS programs provide support to all Army families, SOS is focused specifically on the unique issues facing the families of fallen Soldiers.

"The initiative to develop and resource Survivor Outreach Services within the Army Community Service organization has swept across our Army," Hamilton said. "This is the right thing to do. It is just the beginning of the work we need to do as we strive every day to improve the delivery of these vital services."

Since early 2010, the Arsenal's SOS coordinator, Emily McFall, has been working to identify surviving family members in an 11-county North Alabama region, and to reach out to them with services. Because the Arsenal community includes servicemembers of all branches, SOS is reaching out to families of fallen Soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen. It is also reaching out to the widows of deceased servicemembers who didn't fall in the line of duty.

McFall has been the instrumental force behind the establishment of the SOS facility, relying on support from Army Community Service, FMWR and the Garrison and its employees, as well as volunteers and organizations such as the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army and the Sergeants Major Association.

"Today we open a new space, dedicated to serving our surviving families. It will be a place of comfort, healing and strength. It will be those things not because the building is so great, but because the people who occupy it are absolutely great," Hamilton said.

Currently, 87 fallen servicemembers are from the North Alabama area, representing about 185 family members. Several supporters of SOS joined with those families during the ribbon cutting ceremony and at the reception following.

"We can never repay the sacrifice these servicemembers and families have made for freedom. Never. There's no price that we could pay," said Jeff Wishik, a Vietnam veteran and local community leader.

Lynette Boshell of Cullman visited the SOS facility for the first time during the event. Her husband, active duty Alabama National Guard 1st Sgt. Robert Boshell, died of a massive heart attack seven years ago during physical training for an upcoming deployment. Boshell had served as a Marine during his early years of marriage, and the couple's 32 years of married life included a deployment to Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

"I was a Soldier, too, even though I was on the home front," Boshell said. "He had to trust me. I took care of the home front while he took care of us."

Boshell hopes to volunteer at the SOS facility, helping young families cope with their loss.

"I have a great passion for survivors," she said. "We served, too. We sacrificed. But I don't regret the sacrifice. I'm proud of the sacrifice and of my Soldier. The pride you have for your Soldier really helps you a lot. I want to share with young people that, yes, they can make it through this."

SOS will be a place where families can remember their fallen servicemembers, and cope with the feelings of loss and sorrow to hopefully find a way to go on with a life of hope and joy.

"Please remember why we are here," Hamilton told the ribbon cutting audience. "Remember and be thankful for the sacrifices paid in defense of our very fragile freedoms."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16