FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Gold Star spouses, children and parents gathered outside Fort Riley Garrison Headquarters, building 500, alongside the color guard to raise the Gold Star Flag April 1 ahead of Gold Star Spouses Day.

Gold Star Spouses Day is nationally recognized April 5. It is a day to recognize and honor the spouses of fallen service members and remember the lives of those killed serving the United States of America.

"Gold Star Spouses Day is a day set aside to remember surviving military spouses and honor the legacy of their husbands and wives who died in service to our country," said Christina Gary, survivor outreach specialist for Survivor Outreach Services. "The U.S. Congress recognized the first Gold Star Wives Day on Dec. 18, 2010, and, the following year, Congress designated April 5 as Gold Star Spouses Day."

The Gold Star Flag is raised on the first day of each month to offer a symbol of reflection to the Fort Riley community and Gold Star families about fallen service members, Gary said.

"We raise the flag once every month to honor and remember our fallen heroes who died during that month," she said. "It's important to families because it lets them know we are thinking of their fallen Soldiers and means we, Fort Riley, have not forgotten about their Soldiers and what they did for our nation. I believe it also gives our community and our Soldiers currently serving an opportunity to reflect and remember those fallen Soldiers that they served with as well."

Following the flag raising, the families traveled to the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard stables for a tour and visit with the horses. Soldiers provided the attendees with a brief history of the CGMCG and the structures they use.

After meeting with several of the horses, the Soldiers escorted the families to one of the wagons pulled by draft horses Julie and Joy. The families snuggled up with wool blankets and went for a ride around historic main post before returning to the stables for a racing competition involving squats, picket pounding, moving hay bales and striking a tractor tire with a mallet.

"Our families enjoy staying connected to the Army and Fort Riley," Gary said. "We try and find activities that bring our spouses closer to our Soldiers and leaders, and believe it or not, it's actually a healing process for those Soldiers also. There's not many Soldiers on this post who haven't been affected by the loss of another Soldier. The CGMCG is family friendly and the Soldiers are laid back and so eager to get to know our families and everyone loves the horses. The wagon ride was actually a great way for our families to learn more about our post's history and the competition was a bonus.
When we are teamed up with others, it builds relationships. I have been working with our Gold Star families for over seven years and I have seen strong relationships built between Soldiers and Gold Stars just because they were given an opportunity to spend time together."

For Joaline Locke, widow of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Benjamin Locke, this was one of the first Gold Star events she attended. She said it was finally time for her to start being around other people again and the support of other family members who are going through the same situation she is has helped her.

"To have other people you can communicate with that have gone through and are going through what you went through -- It's a great support," Locke said. "It's a different support than just your friends."

Gary said she plans and brings the families together for Gold Star events so they may lean upon one another and still remain a part of the military community.

"The intent of the day's events was to bring our spouses together," she said. "They help each other, they rely on one another and when you bring grieving spouses together, they heal each other. There's no judgement. They are all in different areas of their journey and regardless of that place, they know they are not alone -- they are family."
Gary also added keeping the families as a part of the military community helps them keep their service member alive in memory.

"Our Gold Star spouses and families are important," she said. "It is our job as an Army to ensure these spouses, their children and family members are not forgotten."