By Mr. Rob Mcilvaine (ARNEWS)August 3, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas -- The 2010 TAPS Fort Hood Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp brought together nearly 300 Family members from as far away as South Korea, Alaska and Nebraska who joined other survivors in weekend-long program of comfort and support.
Included in this group were 120 youngsters ranging in age from four to 19 who participated in a full schedule of activities, each with a Soldier/Mentor who spent the entire two full days with them using the buddy system.
"We've had Families tell us, 'We don't want to sit around and cry,' so based on their feedback and with the help of Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, our Survivor Outreach Services has grown considerably," said Janeth Lopez, Fort Hood Survivor Outreach Services Program Manager.
Lynch, who is now the commanding general of the Installation Management Command, combined the efforts of several organizations and services to take care of military Families when he was the III Corps and Fort Hood Commander.
"One of the biggest challenges for an installation is acquiring the space needed to house the services required to adequately help surviving Families," Lopez said.
Beginning in the spring of 2009, a series of events led to significant changes for surviving Families at Fort Hood.
First, the God Star Family Center's organization, Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors (HUGSS) was replaced by SOS, a program which falls under the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
"Along with the Casualty Assistance Center, HUGSS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and focus groups used to help form the program's future, the Fort Hood SOS program began to take shape," Lopez said.
The Fort Hood area of responsibility includes 175 counties in Texas. Because of the size, one of the first actions, after acquiring the large space to house their offices and Hall of Remembrance, was to hire a staff.
"Our local program was given a Program Manager position and an Office Assistant, two Support Coordinators who would help a Family with programs already existing within the Army, two Financial Counselors and two Family Life Coach positions who would help Families of fallen Soldiers cope with the impact of grief, loss and bereavement," Lopez said.
For the second annual Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp, Fort Hood units, their Soldiers and area businesses pitched in to make the weekend memorable for all those attending.
Members of the Armed Services YMCA volunteered their time to cook beef brisket from six in the morning on Saturday until four in the afternoon when the pulled brisket, baked beans, hot dogs and salad were served up for free.
One of the guys pulling out the brisket and wrapping it up in tin foil for further baking was retired Army Sgt. Maj. David Clemons, who was 1st Cavalry Command Sergeant Major from 2006 to 2008.
"I've got some guys in there on the wall at the Hall of Remembrance and I just enjoy giving back," Clemons said as he jabbed a long fork into a brisket with a hearty smile on his face.
Other units joining were Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Detachment, pilots of an Apache Attack helicopter from the 21st Cavalry, a couple of tanks including an M1 A2 SEP V2, a team of Army bridge builders, the Army band, and dogs and their Soldier handlers from the Army K-9 corps. Local businesses included Westbound, a rock and roll band, and Veteran Sound, a group of veterans who handled music mixing and speakers for the band.
"In the three months I've been here at SOS the ball has really begun to roll and is now creating a landslide," Financial Counselor Duane Atchison said of the program.
"Thanks to Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch who started the ball rolling, the interaction of units here on base and the chaplain, this program will do nothing but get stronger and become a major support system for surviving Families," Atchison said.
During the first day's opening general session, TAPS Director of Training Darcie Sims told the surviving Families that no matter where or how a Soldier died, everyone was there to listen and to help.
"It is not how someone died that brought us here. None of us wanted to be here. Whatever happened that cost them their life, it did not cost them our love," Sims said.
"Many of us here maybe never got a chance to say 'I'm sorry' or you didn't get a chance to say 'goodbye.' Tonight after dinner and the Soldier Show, we'll all get a chance to yell up to the heavens, 'Goodbye, I love you,'" Sims said.
Following two full days of sessions where Families spent time sharing their stories and learning how to cope through meditation, games, exercise and dance, the time for the balloon release finally arrived.
Messages to their loved ones were attached to balloons and they took to the field.
Wayne, a child of a Soldier who had fallen, had no problem announcing what he had written to his father as his Soldier/Mentor David Riecke helped him get ready to release his balloon.
"I miss you," Wayne said.