FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- (June 8, 2012) Sadly, 21 more Gold Star Families joined the ranks of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, but "(they) we no longer have to walk this dark road by ourselves," said Maria Sutherland, who lost her husband Staff Sgt. Stephen Sutherland, 4th Battalion, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in 2005, when deployed to Iraq.

Recently, more than 200 buglers and trumpeters gathered at Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composing of "Taps" and honor our Fallen.

Sutherland and her three sons joined another Gold Star Family from Fort Wainwright to attend the historic event. This was the Sutherland families' seventh visit. For the McCain Family, this was the first. Their Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan McCain, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment was killed Nov. 13, 2011.

The Sutherland Family accompanied the McCain Family, but Sutherland herself didn't see the ceremony this time. She said, "I was fortunate enough to be one of about a hundred people invited to have breakfast with the President and First Lady." There were ten tables with ten people at each one and she didn't think he'd actually stop by hers, but he did.

"When he came up to me, I didn't know what he was going to say so he comes up to me and he's like so who are we honoring today? I told him we're honoring my husband Stephen Sutherland and he gave me a hug and he thanked me for our service and our sacrifice. Then as he was leaving, turned around for some reason and came back and gave me another hug. I was like, wow," she said.

When referring to 'not walking the dark road ourselves', Sutherland was talking about the Fort Wainwright Survivor Outreach Services. The program was primarily established for Family members who have lost a Soldier in wartime, but, "The SOS program welcomes all Families who've suffered the loss of a military member from any branch, at any time, peace or war, regardless of circumstance," said Michelle Benjamin, Army Community Services, Survivor Outreach Support coordinator.

SOS participants are encouraged to join in social programs and outings such as the upcoming USO show, starring Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band in the Thunderdome at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 23. Benjamin said. "It's an opportunity to relax and have fun and still support one another."

The SOS program will offer transportation for the group concert outing because of leader cooperation and volunteer assistance, she said. She and Sutherland both give the Army, and the command team much credit for the ongoing reinforcement SOS receives.

Benjamin also facilitates monthly survivor meetings and invites professionals from on- and off-post helping agencies to speak and provide materials during her meetings. Perhaps most important, Benjamin explains, is the way survivors come together to help one another.

"It's the shared survivors' experiences," she said, "To hear each other's stories and comfort one another in a way no one else can. The camaraderie is special because they can benefit one another with a unique understanding."
"The support from the ACS staff, leadership, the 1-25th Stryker Brigade and MEDDAC," Benjamin said, help make our events happen. All of our volunteers also make sure our Families have positive guidance and the support tools they need during the healing process."

Benjamin encourages anyone who needs survivor outreach services to stop by and visit the SOS office in Building 1049, Suite 4. For more information call Benjamin at 353-4004.