COLUMBUS, Ga. (Dec. 19, 2018) - "Numb" was the first feeling Katie Van Aalst felt after being notified that her husband, Special Operations Soldier Master Sgt. Jared Van Aalst, was killed Aug. 4, 2010, in Konduz Province, Afghanistan.

"It was just shocking; I didn't believe the news," said Katie, who was pregnant with the couple's second child at the time.

Katie is one of many Family members whose military service member passed away. The passing of their service member left the Families to work through the pain of loss and grief. Nonetheless, the Army ensures Katie and Family members like her are neither alone nor forgotten.

The Army's Gold Star Program and Survivor Outreach Services provides long-term support to surviving Families of Soldiers who passed away while on active duty. As a show of support, the Fort Benning Survivor Outreach Services hosted a special Gold Star Family Christmas Dinner at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, Dec. 15, in Columbus, Georgia.

Katie has been a part of the program for eight years, although initially she was hesitant to get involved.

"In the beginning I didn't want to attend," Katie said. "Grief comes in stages, and there became a time when I was ready, and when I was ready I came."

She has also used grief counseling and financial services through the program. Support, she said, is crucial for surviving relatives.

"It means a lot because there's somebody who cares and is always there," Katie said. "It's hard because you feel like you are alone, and the Fort Benning SOS helps so that you are not alone. They're always available for support."

Katie has involved her children as well. They had two children together, Ava, 10 and Hugh, 7. Additionally, Katie is still involved in the life of her stepdaughter Kaylie, who is 15.

Ava participated in the program's annual Fort Benning Gold Star Hunt for the first time in November.

"It was awesome that kids can experience those things that I can't show from a Soldier's perspective about the safety of guns and how to shoot safely," Katie said. "These are things that I can't do that their dad loved and would have done that someone else can show them."

Katie added it is imperative she brings their kids to the program's various events, especially during the holidays.

"It's important for them to be around other people who have experienced the same grief and loss," she said.

Sgt. 1st Class Nicole Brede, who lost her husband to a motorcycle accident Sept. 23, 2017, attended the dinner for the first time and agreed that events such as these are important in the healing process.

"The holidays always bring up memories, and it's definitely a harder time," said Brede. "No one really knows what you have been through except for the people here. They are the ones who can actually relate. Talking to someone who knows what you have been through is reassuring."

To learn more about Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Benning, visit the "Related Links" section on this page.