By Carrie David Campbell (SMDC/ARSTRAT)September 8, 2018
MADISON, Alabama - The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command hosted a 1950s-themed bash for Redstone Arsenal's surviving family members at the Harley Davidson dealership in Madison Sept. 8.
The event, a result of the command's eight-year partnership with Survivor Outreach Services, included hamburgers and hot dogs, sides and desserts, face painting, arts and crafts, a bubble gum blowing contest, a hula hoop contest, vintage cars on display and local band, Big Daddy Kingfish.
"It's hard to believe it's been eight years since SMDC reached out asking if they could partner with SOS to outreach survivors," said Kerrie Branson, SOS coordinator for Redstone Arsenal. "As a result of this partnership, the command's employees who have volunteered over the years have watched these families strive to move forward from a tragedy that shattered their lives.
"They have built relationships with them and are longtime encouragers to these families," she continued. "They have watched surviving kids grow into teenagers and even start college."
According to Phillis Reid, USASMDC/ARSTRAT's SOS project officer, about 70 volunteers showed up to support the nearly 60 attending surviving family members.
"Our volunteers are so amazing!" Reid said. "They put their whole heart and soul into supporting these events, and they are dedicated to ensuring survivors always know they are part of our SMDC Army family."
Reid said the command went with a 1950s theme for this event because they were hosting it at the Harley Davidson dealership and thought it would be a perfect fit.
"I think the survivors get a kick out of the themes we do and that we actually take the time to wear costumes and plan games and other events, such as the vintage cars, to make it authentic," Reid said. "I think they really appreciate that we put so much into events for them."
According to Branson, sometimes an event provides her first interaction with family members.
"I enjoy that I could have been following a survivor for years, and I finally get to meet them for the first time because they finally came to an event," she said.
Beyond the fun offered by the many activities and themes, Branson said the enduring relationships were the greatest benefit of the events.
"Just today I had a gentleman who signed up to be an adult mentor take a shy, surviving son and hang out with him," she said. "These kids don't always get this type of interaction, and it's so good for them to be around adults and interact with them. The mentor told me he wants to do more, and you could tell he left the event getting just as much out of the experience as the survivors did."