I stood back and observed while Christmas music played softly in the background, names were called out one-by-one and loved ones hung handmade ornaments on a perfectly-shaped, 7-foot tall evergreen tree already full of past year's decorations -- photos, paper combat boots and dog tags adorned its yet-to-be-lit branches.

I would carefully, and as quietly as I could, step up with each name called snapping a quick photo, trying to keep my mind busy thinking about what I needed to pick up on my way home or the plans my husband and I had made for the weekend -- anything but what was going on around me and why I was there.

Through the years I've attended and reported on numerous events, to include military funerals and other emotional occasions, and I've never had a problem keeping my emotions in check. Hiding behind a camera helps create more of a feeling of distance in those instances.

Only this time it wasn't working.

In all appearances the event looked like your typical holiday party or family get-together, but there will never be any beautifully wrapped presents under this tree and the energy in the room was a mix of anxiety, sadness and yes, even joy. This particular tree is a remembrance tree that provides an opportunity for families in Fort Leonard Wood's Survivor Outreach Services program a chance to honor their departed service members.

Each year Jodi Carmack, SOS coordinator, and her team of volunteers hand-make new ornaments for surviving families to place on the Angel-Bell Tree located in the Army Community Service building, and after the holidays the ornaments are carefully filed away to be placed back on the tree the following year.

Participants are encouraged to say a few words in memory of their loved one if they feel moved to do so, but silence and tears are also completely understood.

I listened intently as one mother talked tearfully about how her son was killed in a vehicle accident in Kuwait only three months into his first deployment. He had been in the military for just 18 months at the time of his death. Through her tears she talked of how proud she was and that he loved what he did.

She talked about the amount of love and support her family has received and said, "We became a part of a family we never knew existed."

All spoke of how important events like this are to them.

I wondered secretly how each one of them could be so strong after what they had experienced.

And then it happened…as I spoke with another mother who lost her only child to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, I could feel tears streaming down my face and I selfishly thought how thankful I was that the loss was not mine -- not my son, not my husband.

This was the day I realized just how very fortunate I was as a military spouse not to have had to experience that level of heartache and grief.

I am one of the lucky ones.

My heart goes out to these families, especially during the holiday season. I can never tell them or even express how truly grateful I am for their loved ones' service.