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JBSA-Fort Sam Houston honors Gold Star mothers, families

By Sgt. 1st Class Christopher DeHart | ARNORTH Public Affairs | Sept. 13, 2012

JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON — Honoring those who have fallen in war has been a tradition since the beginning of our nation - and no one feels the impact of this loss greater than the mothers and families of our lost heroes.

However, since the government began formally recognizing those who have suffered the loss of their loved ones in this way in 1936, it has served to create a community that bonds these women and families together like no other.

And with this in mind, U.S. Army North, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and San Antonio communities prepare to pay their respects to the survivors of these fallen warriors at the Gold Star Mother's Day and Fallen Heroes Room of Remembrance ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 29.

The ceremony will be held at the Survivor Outreach Services building at 1 p.m. and will honor their strength - and their loved ones' sacrifices. The building is located at 1304 Stanley Road, Building 131.

Gold Star Mother's Day is observed annually in the United States on the last Sunday of September. It is a day for the nation to recognize and honor those who have lost a son or daughter, who were serving the United States armed forces.

"This reinforces the commitment we have to our survivors and makes sure resources are committed to them," said Jessica Stocker, U.S. Army North family program manager and coordinator for the Gold Star Mothers and Families event.

"We want them to know they are always welcome. This facility is open to them, and to the community, to remember and to be there for each other."

The opening of this new facility is a sign of the level of concern leadership here has to provide a certain level of care and service to our survivors.

Stocker said that while a building is just a building, it is important that they have a facility they can be proud of as well.

"And while it is a better building than what we had, the service is the same (quality) that has always been there and will continue to be there for them," she said. "It is the people who make the program what it is."

SOS enters into the picture when a casualty assistance officer has completed their part of the transition period for a family who has lost a loved one.

A CAO can be involved with a family for up to six months at times, or longer, but they will serve as the bridge for the family to the SOS coordinator as they move through the process, eventually passing them to the SOS for the long-term care that it's designed for.

While events leading up to a mother or family needing this service is certainly tragic, the Army doesn't leave anyone behind when it comes to providing support as long as they would need it.

"We want (survivors) to know that they are still a part of our family," said Jim Stokes, SOS coordinator.

Stokes and his counterparts, Marlene Nash and Felecia Taylor, focus on reaching out to the families who have suffered this kind of loss to let them know what programs they have available to them that are available to provide assistance.

This can include a host of things, such as helping work with the Veterans Administration and interpreting regulations to simply helping them avoid running into red tape as they take care of their affairs and cope with everything.

Stokes said SOS is vital to survivors within our communities.

"We don't dictate when the family leaves the program - it is the families' decision until they decide they don't need us anymore," he said. "Even if they leave, and one or two years later they end up needing SOS again, we'll be there for them."

Stokes said the SOS is responsible for approximately 30 different counties within southern Texas, which mirrors the areas under the Casualty Assistance Center.

However, as people move and come and go, Stokes said they do their best to try to keep people connected to the Army and to provide them a place to come for help.

Additionally, there are SOS coordinators within the National Guard and Army Reserves, who support them as well in keeping up with their survivors throughout the region.

"We can never replace what families have lost," Stokes said. "Families grieve in different ways and at different times, but we are there to keep them connected and help them stay in contact with their Army family."

This continued connection, more than anything, is what truly is at the heart of the SOS program.

"We need to ensure the Army continues to wrap its arms around this population of survivors in our community and show that they are not forgotten," she said.