FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - The first quarterly face-to-face focus group for Families of fallen Soldiers was held Nov. 5 at Army Community Service Mobilization and Deployment Program. With a small group meeting for the first time, the group voiced concerns and experiences, providing guidance in an effort to meet their needs in an ongoing basis.

The meeting was an opportunity to express specific needs and assist the Army in implementing processes and ensuring the continued commitment to the Families of the fallen is delivered. The outreach went beyond Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Rhonda DeVries, program manager for Mobilization and Deployment said, "With assistance from casualty affairs, we contacted all Families in the surrounding community who have lost loved ones. We wanted to know if they would be interested in participating in a face-to-face focus group that would allow them to provide feedback."

"We want to ensure we continue to deliver on our commitment to Families of the fallen. The Secretary of the Army has asked ACS to conduct quarterly face-to-face focus groups. The goal is to contact all surviving Family members, across all Army components, to better understand concerns and incorporate these experiences into an improved delivery of services," said Floyd Davison, chief, ACS.

During the group, four areas were addressed: pre-deployment, casualty assistance and notification, benefits and entitlements, and long-term support. These interview processes allow feedback on how well the Army supports the Families of fallen Soldiers.

Casualty assistance officers make themselves available to Families through a fallen Soldier's interment and the early stages of the mourning process. But in the months and years that follow the loss of a loved one, issues and questions often surface about benefits and support services.

"Casualty assistance was wonderful. My husband got a real heroes ceremony," said spouse Elizabeth Lewis.

Spouse Joann Bowen said, "We need that long-term support. This lets spouses know what is available and there when they are ready. I could not have survived the first month without the Army."

"For me, this is wonderful. I have gotten good support," said Teresa Thomas.

(Cheryl Harrison works in the Fort Sam Houston Army Community Service, Marketing)