By Dave Campbell, Fort Campbell CourierJune 25, 2010
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (June 24, 2010) - As a self-proclaimed, daddy's girl, Christina Newman was looking forward to having her father, James P. Newman, around more often when he retired following three post-9/11 deployments, but it wasn't to be.
She and her Family took a month-long road trip to Washington when she lost her father in a car accident just a week after his birthday celebration trip.
"We loved to camp and explore," Christina said. "Dad was big on the outdoors. It was a big part of him."
James had just returned home from his final tour of Iraq.
Only 17 years old, Christina knew she had to help pick up the pieces, even as she began college at Austin Peay State University.
Taking on more adult responsibilities, she soon saw the need to help her mother, but realized there were some areas where she couldn't help.
"Anytime a problem came up, dad took care of it," Christina said. "Gradually, I stepped in and helped with bill disputes. I had to figure it out on my own."
Christina said her mother was not dependent on her, but being from Germany, wasn't familiar with things like filing taxes.
"Some things are really hard and you need help," Christina said.
Department of the Army saw these types of needs and extended a helping hand to Family members with Survivor Outreach Services, a program that offers one-on-one assistance to Families caught in the aftermath of losing their Soldier.
"It was designed to reach out to post-9/11 survivors," Support Coordinator, Heather Vozzelli said. "And we won't turn any surviving Family members away."
The program assists any Family member who survives loss, whether combat-related or otherwise, providing more personal connections through the staff, to help Families cope.
It's been nearly a year since the Family-themed program sent the invite to the Newmans.
But, Christina says, "The wealth of information has been absolutely unbelievable."
First thinking that SOS was a type of class, she saw differently when she arrived and felt immediately welcome.
The help that SOS provides has not stopped since.
"We were afraid it would taper off," Christina said. "But they've been nothing but there for us, and I'm not sure we could do it without them."
Through the staff's work, Christina found out about education assistance like the scholarship for Family members of fallen heroes.
Her mother has found help with money management, property taxes, working on cars and their home.
Even with the little things, she has confidence that she can find help with any answer, things like a recipe list, sent from the SOS office, to help her pick up cooking tips.
"I know every time, I will get a response," Christina said.
Similar in spirit to the Soldier and Family Assistance Center opening July 27, SOS is a "one-stop shop" to assist Families with their needs, Vozzelli said.
"We're not strictly Fort Campbell specific," Vozzelli said. "We're here for the survivor, period."
Rakkasan Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Patton and his wife, Sheila, lost their son, Staff Sgt. James R. Patton, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Ga.
James died April 18 during operations when his helicopter crashed in the Northern Iraq city of Tikrit.
"We are very proud of our son," Sheila said. "And we're taking it one day at a time."
Casualty assistance officers provide immediate and continuous response until all loose ends are tied up, Vozzelli said.
The CAO helped the Pattons arrange all their appointments and introduce the SOS program.
"They're very accommodating. I don't think we left with any questions," Sheila said. "And they educate you about the benefits."
With coordination, financial counseling, workshops and events, SOS is in line with the Army Family Covenant, as a commitment to ease any burden they are equipped to handle.
And if they don't have the answer, they spare no energy in researching the issue.
Focus groups add depth to the feedback for SOS to better assist survivors and learn what needs arise.
"Survivors can come to the focus groups and voice their opinions," financial counselor with SOS, Loreta Guzman said, adding that the meetings are quarterly and many survivors wish to be connected with others who can share similar stories, said Guzman.
James' wife, Beatriz was amazed when help found her at both Fort Benning and also at Fort Campbell, where her only tie was through her in-laws.
"Because of her being here, they embraced her along with us," Sheila said. "She is being well taken care of in both places."
Christina said that through outreach, her mother has been able to connect with other widows. "It's been such a stress relief for her to talk to other spouses," Christina said.
Perhaps widowed spouses need help applying for Army Emergency Relief, SOS is there to guide them through the process, but also there to organize events that might lend social support, even if that means their own.
"Family comes first," Sheila said. "You can tell by what they do. They have skipped lunch, just to put us first."
Beatriz will always be grateful for the help she saw in both places.
"We have been very blessed with all of these people around us," she said. "When I start to cry, they will make you laugh. You don't feel so alone with them."
Beatriz reminds other survivors, if they need help, it's out there, those Gold Star Families just have to look for it.