As a parent, it’s hard to grasp what it would feel like to have to bury your child. For Gold Star mothers, it’s an unfortunate reality that they know all too well.
In the face of an unspeakable tragedy it’s hard to comprehend who to turn to for assistance. The Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Survivor Outreach Services program aims to ease the burden of loss by keeping Gold Star and Surviving Families connected to the Army through resources and support.
Designed to provide long term support to surviving Families of fallen Soldiers, the SOS program helps bridge the gap between the surviving Family and the installation.
“We are dedicated to providing the linkage between the Army and the surviving Families,” said Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Survivor Outreach Services director, Selinda Torbert-Blue. “When a service member passes away, there are a lot of things that change in the survivors’ lives. We strive to offer the constant ability for them to reach out to us if they need something so they can continue to stay linked to the Army.”
Services offered include benefits reviews, milestone checks, interview and media engagement opportunities, peer-to-peer support groups, and special events, to name a few.
Of the events, Gold Star Mother’s and Families Day always receives the attention of the SOS program.
In the past, the day has been celebrated with special dinners and vigils. This year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be hosted outdoors at Fort Stewart’s Cashe Memorial Garden and will offer an opportunity for Gold Star Mothers and Families to connect and share special memories about their loved ones.
“The event will focus on providing an environment for our Gold Star and Surviving Family members to celebrate the lives of their fallen loved ones,” Torbert-Blue said. “We want to make sure that our Gold Star mothers and Families know that no matter what, they are honored and respected.”
While a memorial service will not be held during the event, Families will have the opportunity to share fond memories about their Soldiers. Two Gold Star Mothers have been asked to share memories about their fallen Soldiers and the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Senior Commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Costanza will offer special remarks. The senior commander will also present each Gold Star mother in attendance with a bouquet of flowers and a card.
“The main focus of the event is to make sure that our Gold Star mothers and Families know that no matter what, they are honored and respected,” Torbert-Blue said.
Connie Brown is one of the Gold Star Mothers who will speak during the event. Her son, Staff Sgt. Vernon Martin, was killed in action Oct. 3, 2009 during a deployment to Afghanistan, his second deployment in support of the war on terror.
“It’s really hard to talk about,” she said. “Especially now being so close to the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. It’s even more difficult right now because we’re coming up on the anniversary of Vernon’s death. Being a Gold Star mother is not really a title that you want, but it’s a title that you have. I am so proud of my son and the sacrifice that he made. Being a Gold Star mother is a title that you learn to accept and wear proudly.”
Brown also spoke about the benefits of the installation’s SOS program.
“The Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield SOS is wonderful,” she said. “I like the fact that they are there for you. They reach out to make sure we know about the events they host and the classes that are offered to us. It’s an honor to be recognized and to be supported by them.”
Torbert-Blue echoed her sentiment.
“Our surviving Families here, whatever you do for them, they're extremely grateful,” she said. “By the time they come to see us they’ve already received their benefits. What they’re really looking for when they come to see us is to not get cut off from the installation. The Survivor Outreach program offers them a really strong support system that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”
In addition to the services offered to survivors, having someone in their corner to help maintain the memory of their fallen loved one stays at the forefront of the SOS program.
“One of the great things about our program is that our survivors get to meet with other Families who can relate with their situation,” Torbert-Blue said. “Through our programs they get to spend time with each other and share their stories, because no one understands like someone that's been in your shoes. I like to say that we connect the survivors with the worst day of their lives to the rest of their lives.”
The Gold Star Mother’s and Families Day event will take place Sept. 25 at Cashe Memorial Garden on Fort Stewart. The event is free and open to all Gold Star Mother’s and Families.
For more information, visit home.army.mil/stewart/index.php/about/Garrison/acs/SOS or call 435-9598.