VICENZA, Italy - When Tatiana Soldatenko's husband Thomas Ehler died in 2019, she received help from Army Community Service at U.S. Army Garrison Italy.
Now, a memorial bench outside ACS is dedicated to her late husband, a place for community members to relax and also remember the U.S. Navy veteran who also served as an Army civilian. Ehler died of colon cancer in April 2019.
Family, friends and community members gathered May 14 to dedicate the memorial bench with commemoration plaque. Storm clouds broke just as son Brian, Matthew and Thomas, Jr., in red t-shirts, alongside their mother in her red jacket, released four red balloons to remember their father and husband. Behind the bench, a family portrait rested beside fresh-cut red flowers and red lollipops for the guests.
"Red is the color of love, the love that the boys and I have each day for Thomas," Soldatenko said.
In the Navy, Ehler served as a Russian linguist and as a civil engineer. In 2019, while working as an engineer for U.S. Army Africa, Southern European Task Force, Ehler flew stateside for his father's funeral. While there, he fell ill with the same cancer that took his father. Unable to return, Ehler, 50, died within weeks.
Originally from Russia, Soldatenko was married to Ehler for 12 years. She found herself living a new life, coping with shock and grief, while suddenly refocusing on life without her husband. ACS came to her aid, offering her stress and grief management, financial management, and resume building, said Mariangiola Miller, USAG Italy Army Community Service division chief.
"We picked her back up, assisted her in attaining goals, including gaining employment so she and the boys could stay and continue to live their life surrounded by this wonderful community," Miller said.
To stay in Vicenza, Soldatenko knew that finding a good job was important.
Sarah Polanco, ACS Employment Readiness program manager, helped Soldatenko to go over her experiences building a resume from scratch.
"We focused on her past employment as a teacher, and after several applications, Tatiana was hired as a caregiver for the USAG Italy Child Development Center," Polanco said. "She was able to stay in Vicenza as a self-sponsored non-appropriated funded employee, but most importantly provide stability for herself and her three boys."
The bench and commemoration plaque are located under a very peaceful large tree. Soldatenko hopes community members who sit there pay tribute to Ehler and also reflect on how ACS supports the community.
"ACS is important to me," Soldatenko said. "I do not know what I would have done, or where I would be if I did not have them available when I needed it most."