REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--With determination and a smile on his face, KayCee Chaney, 4, put paintbrush to pumpkin, crafting his own work of art and proudly displaying it for all to see. But it wasn't just his pretty pumpkin he was smiling about -- it was the chance to be with kids just like him. Gold Star kids.

"It's good for him to know he's not the only one in the world that's a Gold Star Kid," mom Krystal Chaney said. "It's healthy for him to realize we can all move forward."

It was laughter and tears, sunshine and burgers, pumpkin painting and flag football Saturday at the Survivor Outreach Services Fall Festival, sponsored by Space and Missile Defense Command, held at commander Lt. Gen. Richard Formica's home. More than 40 mothers, fathers, wives, children, siblings, grandparents and other relatives of fallen Soldiers gathered to spend time with each other, share stories and remember, and simply have fun.

"We're a military family," said Jim Hall, whose son Staff Sgt. James Le Hall lost his battle with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma a year ago last week. "This gives us an opportunity to meet some of the people here in the community that are going through the same thing -- they've lost a loved one. You're trying to fill that void for someone that's not here."

For Chaney, whose husband Spc. Cole Chaney was killed in the line of duty in 2008, the festival was also an opportunity to celebrate her fallen Soldier's life, and the life she and her son lead today.

"I think an event like this honors the sacrifice that our Soldiers lived before they died and helps keep us connected with the Army community that became a lot of our identity when we were married to the Army," Chaney said. "A lot of people say the sacrifice is when they died, which it definitely is, but I think the sacrifice is also what they lived. This helps us concentrate on the life, versus the death part."

Formica, Redstone senior commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers and Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton and their families were all on hand to spend time with the SOS families as they played, relaxed and enjoyed a cookout catered by the Officers and Civilians Club. As Formica welcomed each visitor in his driveway, there was no mistaking the commitment to these Gold Star families that exists not only within Redstone Arsenal's leadership, but Team Redstone in its entirety.

"This is about families," Formica said. "Whatever caused you to be here, and whatever your connection, we want to welcome you and we want you to feel like the Redstone family… Thanks for this opportunity to come together and be a family. We're proud to be part of this family. As you continue your progress, and life continues for you, we want to be part of that."

While Chaney still grieves for her husband every day, through the help of SOS, Team Redstone, and events such as the Fall Festival, she is able to continue living and enjoying life.

"Grief is very personal and each person's different," Chaney said. "I'm just really trying to focus on moving forward and what I still have."

As at all Survivor Outreach events, children were paired with an adult mentor, to help ensure they had a safe, but enjoyable time, and had the opportunity to talk about and remember their Soldier, giving the adults a chance to relax, knowing their children were taken care of. In addition to spending time with each other, the event also gave an opportunity for SOS families to bid farewell to Emily McFall -- the program's coordinator since its inception in 2010, who is choosing to move on to a new chapter in her life -- and welcome new coordinator, Kerrie Branson.

"Emily McFall has done an exceptional job implementing this program and I am very excited to continue growing and expanding the support services to our survivors in honor of their Soldiers," Branson said. "I know their Soldiers would be proud of what we are doing to support their families. I'm extremely honored to be a part of serving and caring for our surviving families. They are truly amazing families and an inspiration to me.

"As Lt. Gen. Formica said to the mentors in preparation for the day's events, we want to become a small army to the survivors surrounding Redstone Arsenal. We want to make it easier for them to get support and services and develop relationships with our staff and family members, so they feel a part of the Redstone family. During the fall festival, I looked around at all the children whose fathers have died while serving our military, and realized just how important these events are. Not only does it give them an opportunity to develop friendships with other children who have experienced the loss of a Soldier, it's a time for them to be proud of their Soldier's service to our country, to our military, and to continue to be part of a patriotic community. They never forget their loved ones and we never want to forget them either."

Page last updated Thu October 20th, 2011 at 10:05