There are patriots within the Rheinland-Pfalz Military Community for whom April 5th is a day of celebration and sorrow. Gold Star Spouses Day honors the surviving loved ones of military service members who died while serving their country.
Kerri Schmitt, Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator for U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz, knows of 26 survivors in the community. She welcomes anyone who is a Gold Star family member, from any service branch, to connect with SOS.
“We provide long term support to surviving families of fallen soldiers,” said Schmitt. “We offer support services, financial counseling, milestone management, and are here to support and help families get connected to resources.”
Samantha Dubay-Brokaw, whose late husband Sgt. Andrew Dubay, passed away from a combat related illness in 2011, appreciates the sense of community SOS services and activities provide.
“It’s an awkward situation, especially when you find yourself being a young widow or a woman who has lost their child,” said Dubay-Brokaw. “You get an awkward silence when people find out. But when you’re with other survivors, it’s not there. You build a community. It’s a safe space for the kids. And they [SOS] really do a wonderful job letting people know that there is more to life than just your loss. They focus on honoring your loved ones.”
Dubay-Brokaw, who is married to Spc. Robert Brokaw, 569th Human Resources Company, 16th Special Troops Battalion, and her children Gabriel, Seth and Andrew, were among Gold Star family members honored at an April 1 luncheon at the Rhine Ordnance Barracks Defender Café hosted by SOS and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz.
“Gold Star families represent strength and honor,” said USAG Rheinland-Pfalz Command Sgt. Major Stephen LaRocque. “You lost a loved one in service to our nation. No one can ever thank you enough.”
Survivor Outreach Services is part of the Army Casualty Continuum of Care, designed to ensure surviving family members have the resources to help them after they’ve lost their Soldier.
“The survivors and Gold Star family members that I have worked with frequently comment that they are so thankful that Survivor Outreach Services exists,” said Schmitt. “While no one wants to be a member of the group with what the membership entails, the survivors are glad to have a resource that keeps them connected to other survivors and helps them have a point of contact in deciphering the documents and questions that follow after someone has passed.
“Losing a loved one is very overwhelming, so knowing that someone is available to help navigate various processes can help lighten the load during the grieving process.”
Schmitt said it is an honor to work with such a resilient group. “Many of our survivors and Gold Star family members stay active in SOS so they can continue offering support to other grieving family members. It is really an amazing network of caring and resilient individuals.”
According to Schmitt, the Gold Star is a symbol of loss that dates back to World War I when families would display a blue star service flag outside their homes to signify they had a family member serving in the Armed Forces during a time of conflict. The Gold Star recognition first appeared in 1918, when families would cover a gold star over the blue star to indicate that their loved one had been killed overseas while serving in the U.S. military.
USAG Rheinland-Pfalz Survivor Outreach Services is located on Kleber Kaserne, Bldg. 3210. Call +49 0611-143-541-9000 or DSN: 541-9000. Support meetings are held the second Friday of the month on Kleber Kaserne.