Finding peace in the storm:
By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition

ARLINGTON, Va. - "Bold, beautiful and considered a gift of God." It is the special meaning behind retired U.S. Army Spc. Ralph Hanson's middle son named Kenn.

Hanson fondly remembers the day his son, U.S. Air Force Airmen Kenn Allen Hanson, was born.

"I arrived at the hospital in Seguin, Texas around 1 p.m. to walk in and see Susie with him in her arms. Kenn was born mid-morning and unfortunately, we had completely forgot to pick a name as we did not know at the time if we were having a boy or a girl," Hanson recalled. "It was the day after he was born that we chose the name Kenn Allen Hanson. This meaning of the name
was one of the biggest reasons it we chose it. We often referred to him as the "perfect baby."

More beautiful memories would follow as the Hanson's middle son blossomed right before the family's eyes.

"Kenn was the perfect baby; smart, driven, kind, and well-behaved. All of these characteristics became amplified after he joined the military," said Tristan Hanson, an infantryman in the U.S. Army and the youngest of the three Hanson children.

Kenn was a curious and inquisitive child, qualities that followed him into adulthood. Shortly after his high school graduation and at the guidance of his father, Kenn followed his father's example and enlisted in the military.

"Kenn's unit fell under Special Operations Command. He specifically worked on the C-130 Gunships used as air support for ground troops," Ralph said.

One of the driving factors, Ralph believes led to him becoming an Electronic Warfare Specialist. "As a child, it was common for Kenn to disassemble things and put them back together out of curiosity. He always put whatever he took apart back together. His curiosity was his driving force, and had an interest in art, science and mechanics."

Tristan, the youngest of the Hanson boys, says no matter where the military took him, his middle brother [Kenn] always came home for special occasions.

"After he left for the military, Kenn never let that change our relationship. He never forgot a birthday, Christmas, etc. He would always come home whether it was Arlington, Texas or Louisiana," Tristan said. "He also admitted to me that the only reason he joined the military was so my dad wouldn't have to worry about putting him through college. That is just a small glimpse into the kind of heart he had by being so selfless," said Tristan. Ralph III, the oldest Hanson brother, also enlisted in 2011.

"Susie and I had raised our boys and all three of them were serving our country and we were proud of them. Life was good, they were all following their heart and doing well," Ralph said.

"On November 28, 2014, at 2:45 a.m., the Hanson's lives would change forever.

"I was awakened to a phone call telling me that Kenn was no longer with us. I clearly recall saying 'What do you mean?' His Commander identified himself and stated, 'I am sorry to tell you Kenn is no longer with us, he has passed.' Those were his exact words," said Ralph.

Later that day, while they were driving home, Ralph learned Kenn had written a letter to the family. "Kenn's letter said: Mom, Dad, Ralph and Tristan, I love you more than anything and I am sorry, but the pain is too much to bear," Ralph painfully recalled. "We also found out he was previously diagnosed as having suicidal thoughts and was pre-diagnosed as having possible post-traumatic stress symptoms."

As the Hanson family prepared for the memorial service, Tristan now stationed at Fort Hood, Texas traveled to Florida to escort his brother's remains home to Texas.

"Tristan was only a Pfc. at the time, and I remember being asked if I wanted someone more senior to conduct the escort. I recall a very direct answer to the question was, No. When I asked Tristan, he willingly accepted and indicated this was his duty. Tristan stated: 'Dad, I got this and I will get him home,'" said Ralph. "This brought tears to my eyes and to this day I think how mature and responsible this was for him to say."

While the Hanson family searched for peace, the grieving process affected them all in their own way. A chance encounter with a friend asking Gold Star Families to submit their names for a Gold Star Parents Retreat in Gainesville, Texas, honoring the memories of loved ones who lost their lives in the line of duty, helped brighten the Hanson's spirits.

"[Gold Star Families] consider ourselves a family, we have an instant bond and as odd as this may sound, we immediately know each other, there are no awkward moments. I am not sure if it is the loss, the grief, the life or the opportunity to be around people who all have one experience that impacted our life, but it works," Hanson said. "We are all friends for life for a reason we did not choose, for a life we have been given and a club no one wants to join. The Gold Star Parents retreat is significant in our life and, unfortunately, our numbers continue to grow. But if one more family can be saved by being brought into the circle, we will do it!"