By Scott Prater
Mountaineer staff

FORT CARSON, Colo. - Fort Carson Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) honored and recognized the surviving spouses of fallen Soldiers with a luncheon and service April 18, 2019.

About 40 spouses and Family members attended the event at the MCM Elegante Suites Hotel.

Special guests included Patty George, spouse of Maj. Gen. Randy A. George, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson; and Kristen Kea, division chief, Army Community Service (ACS) of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation's (DFMWR) .

The event was held in recognition of Gold Star Spouses Day (April 5), a remembrance day for the survivors of fallen Soldiers.

The Gold Star symbolizes the loss of a service member, dating back to World War I. Families would display a flag with a blue star to signify that a member was away at war. If the service member died, the blue star would be replaced with a gold star.

The U.S. Senate approved a resolution in 2013 to designate what was then termed Gold Star Wives Day in recognition of the sacrifices by spouses of the fallen.

SOS is an Armywide program, which began in 2009, providing support to survivors of deceased Soldiers. SOS is part of ACS and DFMWR and ensures survivors receive all the benefits to which they are entitled and encourages survivors to remain a part of the Army Family as long as they desire.

"When Family members first come to us, we know they have a lot of sadness in their lives," said Angela Gunn, SOS program manager. "So we want this event to be a place where they don't have to be sad. We try to have fun, upbeat events and activities so that they feel comfortable." James Kilpatrick, SOS support coordinator, emceed the event, welcomed Gold Star spouses and led a few of the event's activities.

Attending spouses experienced an inviting atmosphere and relished the company of fellow spouses who share their grief. Following presentations from SOS staff and spouses, the attendees participated in a music therapy demonstration and interacted in a group activity.

"I think the most beneficial aspect of these events is that, sometimes when you're feeling the pain and grief of someone, just knowing that someone else has walked that journey, whether words are spoken or not, someone has been where you're at, they've worn your shoes," said Toni Kirkwood, spouse of retired Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Kirkwood, who died in November 2015. "There's comfort in knowing that you're not suffering alone."

The main event activity introduced spouses to a few drum and string instruments, and allowed them to play and practice with each other before they joined the group to compose an impromptu song.

"There is always something different at these SOS events," Kirkwood said. "Sometimes you get stuck in your box and you don't want to venture out and try different things. So, this gives you an opportunity to experience something that doesn't cost anything and may turn out to be a good fit for you."

Besides hosting the annual luncheon, SOS conducts quarterly family nights as well as a Christmas event.

"One thing that is unique about this group is that people are in different places along their grief journey," Kirkwood said. "So, if you're new to that journey, you just see that there's hope to get beyond that dark cloud, so you can start to live your life again."