Teresa Cleaver, mother of Staff Sgt. John Cleaver, who passed away in 2009, speaks with Col. Sean Crockett, commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School (center), and Sailors from the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Navy Detachment Fort Leonard Wood during the Share Your Story portion of Fort Leonard Wood’s annual Gold Star family recognition event Saturday at the USO. Besides his time in the Army, John also served in the Navy.
Teresa Cleaver, mother of Staff Sgt. John Cleaver, who passed away in 2009, speaks with Col. Sean Crockett, commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School (center), and Sailors from the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Navy Detachment Fort Leonard Wood during the Share Your Story portion of Fort Leonard Wood’s annual Gold Star family recognition event Saturday at the USO. Besides his time in the Army, John also served in the Navy. (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood’s Survivor Outreach Services hosted its annual Gold Star family recognition event Saturday.

Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day, which is officially observed on the last Sunday of September, recognizes and honors those who have lost a loved one who was actively serving in the military.

This year’s event featured something new — a fun run that began and ended at Army Community Service and drew about 50 participants — along with many of the things they have done in the past, said Jody Carmack, SOS support coordinator.

“The run was put together at the request of one of our survivors,” Carmack said. “I told her we hadn’t had a run for the fallen here in many years. She and her kids are new to the area, so I said, “Why not add it this year to the Gold Star family recognition event?’ It was a wonderful morning.”

In the afternoon, the event moved to the USO for what’s called the Share Your Story portion of the day, where the survivors were able to set up displays of photographs, newspaper clippings, award citations and other memorabilia symbolic of their fallen loved one. The families were then able to visit with each other, and the Fort Leonard Wood community was invited to attend as well. As in year’s past, junior officers here attending the Basic Officer Leader Course and Captains Career Course volunteered to assist Carmack — they acted as road guards for the run and “battle buddies” at the USO.

“We had more than 20 attached to the families, so if they needed anything throughout the day, then their battle buddies were there to take care of them,” Carmack said.

A new survivor in attendance this year was Erin Joseph, who lost her husband, Maj. Trevor Joseph, on Sept. 26, 2019 — his Chicago Cubs memorabilia lined the front of her display table.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said of the event. “It’s hard being someone who has lost someone like this because people don’t know whether or not they can bring him up. They don’t know if that’s going to start you on this whole downward spiral, and I’m like, ‘No, I want to still say his name. I still want to talk about him. He lived. He was an amazing person.’ So, to be able to have events like this where you have people coming up and they’re interested and they want to talk and they’re sharing their stories, it makes you feel a connection.”

Following Share Your Story, the event continued with music and a dinner provided by the USO. Carmack said Soldiers from the 399th Army Band’s rock band helped make the event special for the survivors again this year, when they performed “a very diverse concert” of songs chosen by the attendees, including “gospel, country, rap, Lynyrd Skynyrd and everything in between.”

Staff Sgt. Brian Mackie, music performance team leader for the rock band, called it an extreme honor to be able to perform for the survivors.

“We usually approach our concerts from an entertainment standpoint,” he said. “Tonight, that’s not what this is about. It’s about fulfilling the requests of families who have lost their loved ones. These songs are special to them, so we needed to make them special to us.”

Carmack, who organized the first Gold Star family recognition event here in 2010, said she is very happy to be back to hosting the full event after COVID-19 mitigation protocols over the past two years forced everything to be scaled back.

“We’re glad to be all back together in the USO,” she said. “(The survivors) need this, especially the Share Your Story part. They know their loved one is not going to be forgotten because they are passing the memories on to a new generation.”