By Carrie E. David (SMDC/ARSTRAT)December 4, 2016
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- While everyone celebrates the holidays a little differently, for many it is a special time of traditions, family and friends. However, for many celebrating the holidays this season, there is an empty place where a loved one should be, and nowhere is this truer than with America's Gold Star families.
To remind those families that they are remembered and loved, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command hosted a holiday party for the families of Survivor Outreach Services at the Overlook on Redstone Arsenal Dec. 3.
"Having an empty seat at your table during the holidays can be really hard," said Kerrie Branson, SOS coordinator for Redstone Arsenal. "When other families, including their own extended families, are getting together as they always have, it can cause survivors to isolate themselves because they are missing someone this holiday season."
Some people refuse to participate in traditions as they once did, Branson said, and some create new traditions to decorate their loved ones graves or memorials.
"For some, it is difficult to celebrate and they are saddened when they see others who have their entire family unit together when they can't," Branson said. "Whatever the case, the holidays will never be the same for them.
"The goal of today's event was to put a little joy in their lives," Branson said. "And to recognize it as a tough time of year for them and let them know that we, as a military family, care."
Lt. Gen. David Mann, USASMDC/ARSTRAT's commanding general and a surviving family member, offered thanks to the Redstone and local communities for their support of Soldiers and their families, especially Gold Star families.
"We all know Gold Star families are dealing with a loss in their lives and that their loss is even more difficult during the holiday season," Mann said. "We just want them, especially the children, to know that they are loved by many, and that they are still a part of our Army family."
The event included creating a keepsake ornament, a cookie decoration station, a costume station, lunch, an interactive singing session with local Vietnam veteran Marshall Lewey, pinatas, and a visit by Santa Claus. Branson said her favorite event was the ornament.
"Surviving family members were able to create a memory ornament with pictures of their fallen heroes," she said. "At SOS we always try to incorporate a craft or activity that keeps their loved ones' memories alive."
Mann said that remembering the families is very important.
"We are going to keep remembering the families' sacrifice and we will continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers," Mann said. "I can't say thank you enough to the volunteers who have helped make this a special event for these families and their children."
More than 60 family members and guests attended the event, and nearly 50 volunteers participated - active and retired, military and civilian -- including Redstone Arsenal's garrison commander, Col. Thomas Holliday, his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Emily.