By Derek Gean (Fort Wood Community Editor)June 2, 2016
When people think of military survivors, thoughts often go to those who have lost a loved one on the battlefield, but there are other groups of survivors.
Fort Leonard Wood has a vibrant community of military retiree survivors. Often forgotten, these are the ones who have followed their spouses through their military careers, settled in military communities often far from their extended Families, and then find themselves suddenly "disconnected" from the community.
According to Jody Carmack, Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator, the death of a military retiree often serves as a harsh reality, but support is available and that military connection does not have to end. Fort Leonard Wood is home to a large group of military retirees who meet monthly for a Retiree Survivor Support Group Lunch.
"We share something…we share being alone," said Barbara Bongiovanni, retiree survivor who participates in the support group.
June 26, group members gathered for lunch at the Fort Leonard Wood museum complex World War II mess hall.
Some of the survivors have been part of the group for years, others for just a few weeks. It was apparent at the luncheon that the bond of loss had gone on to create the bond of Family.
"Once you meet everyone, you are no longer alone," Bongiovanni said.
Beverly Richard has been part of the group since 2010, losing her husband in 2009. She said the support has been "wonderful."
"We get a lot of support from each other," Richard said. She said the group also connects them with SOS, which offers additional support when it comes to navigating life as a military survivor.
"We get a lot of support. They help us with any concerns we have, even getting appointments at the hospital," Richards said.
Carmack said the group of survivors inspires her.
"This group is 40 to 50 of my heroes," she said.
The support group meets at 11:30 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month.
"We attempt to acquaint (the survivors) with opportunities on Fort Leonard Wood," Carmack said "We try to find safe and fun things for them to do to stay active and help them to know our communities, while ensuring they know about the services available."
With summer near, Carmack said the survivors met at the museum so they could learn more about the museum complex. She said the complex can be a place where retirees can get out of the heat, exercise and learn more about Army history.
She said SOS holds as many of their programs on post to help keep the survivors connected to the military community, but they also go off post. "Three times a year we go to the St. Robert/Waynesville area to Rolla, St. James and Lebanon. The rest of the year we stay local -- some on post and some off. We attend some of the popular, and some not-so-known local restaurants. We invite speakers from senior, medical, legal, future planning and leisure event/activity services to share what is available for this demographic," Carmack said.
At the May 26 luncheon, not only did the survivors learn about the museum, but representatives of General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital were also available to share about hospital programs and services.
Carmack said as word gets out, the group is growing.
Mavis Nelson, a surviving spouse, said she has benefited from the support for four years now.
"I just enjoy being with all the people -- it's good fellowship, Nelson said.
"If there are any military widows (or widowers) out there, they should go to Survivor Outreach Services and find out about the group. They should at least go to a meeting and see how they like it," Richard said.
The next Retiree Survivor Support Group Lunch is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. June 23 at a location to be determined.