By Dustin Senger (Fort Carson)August 25, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Dozens of children, representing the loss of a parent in military service, gathered in a garden near the Rocky Mountain Front Range Monday, where Army officers shook their hands and presented medals.
The summer morning marked the first medal of remembrance ceremony at Fort Carson, according to Army officials. The presentation culminated a recognition ceremony outside the Fallen Heroes Family Center, which opened last fall. Army leaders explained expanding support by the facility's Survivor Outreach Services.
The Fort Carson medals were inspired by the Gold Medal of Remembrance for the Sons and Daughters of Our Fallen Act of 2011. Introduced in May, the legislation grants a national "Gold Medal of Remembrance" to the children of each servicemember who dies as a result of wounds, injuries or illnesses -- retroactive to 9/11.
"We're all united in honoring our fallen heroes and caring for their Families, and especially for our kids," said Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, standing at a podium near a table holding almost 50 medals. Each case had the name of a child and a parent, a bond recently broken by combat, suicide and other incidences.
"For the Families of the fallen, on this day, we pay tribute to them and their fallen loved one," said McLaughlin. "Because in the end, it's really all about them. They are our future."
Next to the awards, a shaded bleacher of children exhibited a mix of emotions. One-by-one, they met Brig. Gen. James H. Doty, acting senior commander, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson.
"I told him he was going to receive a medal for his daddy, since he's unable to be here," said Ariana Garza, mother of Christian Hernandez, 5. The child acted enthusiastic about adding the decoration to his father's collection of medals, she said. His father, Staff Sgt. Juan Hernandez, died of suicide in October 2009.
"It's going to help give him comfort," said Garza, suggesting the ceremony would remind Christian that other children have also lost a parent.
Morgan Aschan, 11, was the first to receive a medal, followed by Wyatt Aschan, 14. Wyatt said the medal would embody his favorite memories of his father, Maj. Shawn Aschan. The Soldier drowned last month while stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va. The Family had been preparing for a move to Colorado Springs.
"I felt sad," said Wyatt, recalling the moment the Army general placed the medal over his shoulders. "I was starting to realize he's gone and I won't see him again." Despite the realization, Wyatt said the ceremony will help him heal from the loss of his father.
Joshua Blackwell, 4, dressed in an Army camouflage uniform, turned to the crowd of observers, filled his chest with air and opened his arms, a gesture that drew audience attention to his new medal.
"(The ceremony) reminds everyone that these men were not just Soldiers, they have Families, too. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads," said Joshua's mother, Allyson Wyatt, widow of Spc. Justin Blackwell. The Soldier died in August 2007 of wounds from a mortar attack in Iraq.
"It's nice to have somewhere to go … where people know what you're going through," said Chantel Aschan, widow of Shawn Aschan, describing the Fallen Heroes Family Center at Fort Carson. "The people here have been unbelievable … amazing. They don't want you to worry about anything."