Six years ago the Army created a Survivor Outreach Services program to assist Gold Star Families. Gold Star Families are those surviving Family Members that lost a Fallen Hero who died on the battlefield or while on active duty. The SOS program helps Gold Star Families feel connected to their local military post. They are invited to attend activities, events, use Army Community Service programs they are eligible for, and receive support for as long as they choose.
“Families get to be with other Families who have experienced the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of a Family Member,” said Army Community Service Director Patsy Gomez. “As Family Members get to know each other, they look forward to the next opportunity to support each other”.
Much of what the SOS program does for Gold Star Families is run by ACS. The WSMR ACS has 189 identified Gold Star Family Members residing in the area that are part of the local caseload. There are nearly 500 other Gold Star Family Members that reside in the Albuquerque area and they fall under the caseload of New Mexico National Guard. Family members can obtain an Installation Access Pass to allow for greater ease in getting on an installation to participate in installation events. The card also clearly defines a Gold Star Family member by placing a star directly on the card.
“When you see the gold star, you know immediately what it means and can offer words of thanks and respect for the loss they have suffered”, Gomez said.
There are also 10 designated VIP parking spaces that Gold Star Families can use when visiting the installation. The parking spaces can be found in areas like Army Community Services, Post Exchange, Chapel, and the Professional Development Center. The national program also provides Gold Star pins to Family Members. There are two types of pins that are distributed. One pin has a purple center and symbolizes a life lost in battle; the second pin is gold throughout and symbolizes a life lost during the course of the individual’s military service.
“We just want to say thank you (whenever we see you wearing the pin). If you want to tell me about your daughter or your son, I want to hear you and thank you. Many Family Members carry photos they want to share. It’s about keeping the memory alive,” Gomez said.
The distinction in pins was created to identify battlefield deaths and those that died from accidents, suicide, disease or any other method. Family Members who lost their Service Members to suicide sometimes grieve in silence. Gomez said there needs to be a push to remove the stigma in order to allow these Families to feel like they belong and grieve properly.
“Let’s not define that military member by their last act, let us remember them for the patriotism, sacrifice and service they gave to our country. In many ways these Families suffer silently,” Gomez said. “It’s how it ended, it wasn’t who they were.”
The program also applies to Families of other military branches and Families who have lost a service member in past wars. Gomez invites Gold Star Families to mail or bring in a photo of their lost service member. ACS will frame and display the photo and hang it on their Wall of Remembrance. Gomez said Family members are always welcome to come in and reflect. Family members may also write letters to their lost service member and ACS will place the letters behind the frame.
“It’s a way of letting them know that they’re still connected,” Gomez said. “For some people the military was the only way of life they knew. We just want to make sure that they know they aren’t forgotten.”
Gomez shared stories of Gold Star Families from around the area that truly encompassed what the Gold Star program was all about. Gomez spoke of a father who threatened to walk to a recent WSMR Memorial Service when he thought there was no other means of transportation and a mother who lost a daughter who was in the National Guard and expressed her feelings of not fitting in until she heard about the Gold Star program.
“We want to make sure that they know that they have some place to go. If this is where you want to come then we want to have you,” Gomez said. “It’s just a small way of never letting Family members of fallen military members be forgotten.”
For more information, please call ACS at 678-6767.