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Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 4:56pm

Gold Star family members celebrate back-to-school with SOS

Spc. William Sankuer, 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion
Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 10:25pm

The office of the Fort Bliss Survivor Outreach Services was warmly lit, sunlight streaming in through the windows and falling on the faces of Soldiers who have passed on.

Meticulously spaced photographs line the wall of the Hall of Remembrance, each of a warrior who has made the ultimate sacrifice.

It was a solemn and sobering sight, but during the early evening of Aug. 8, the SOS office was filled with the happy laughter and smiles of the youngest survivors, the children of those fallen, as they received free backpacks stuffed with school supplies to help them start the new school year off right.

Retired Army Master Sgt. Lew Lewis, the SOS program coordinator, spoke about the benefits of the event and of the SOS program with an enthusiasm that was contagious.

“It’s providing me an opportunity to do some outreach,” said Lewis. “Some surviving family members do not engage the program unless you provide them with an opportunity to be engaged. When we’re able to facilitate a specific program that they’re interested in, then all of a sudden, I get to meet them face to face. And that’s a beautiful thing for me.”

One of those newly arrived family members was Maria Murphy, a Gold Star wife and mother of two. “This is my first time coming here,” she admitted, smiling softly while keeping a watchful eye on her two daughters playing with the other children.

“They’re happy, and it helps me as well to see them this happy, knowing that we’re with other people who have been through this same thing.”

SOS provides not just a place to gather in fellowship, but also a myriad of helpful services and support for the surviving families of fallen Soldiers, and the support continues for as long as the family members wish to remain connected to the Army community.

For Lewis, a 25-year veteran of the Army and a former chaplain’s assistant, being able to provide such outreach to families in need was something that he always knew he wanted to be a part of, and he believes the combination of the SOS and the camaraderie of the other survivors can help maintain strong and healthy families, regardless of whether they take advantage of the free services the Army offers them.

“Certain families are farther down the road as far as their dealing and their experience with grief, and so they can help the other families know…there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Lewis. “It’s great to know that the Army is standing behind them, but it’s even more wonderful when they know they have a community of peers that’s also standing behind them as well.”

Survivor Outreach Services is an Army-wide program that provides support for the families of departed Soldiers. SOS standardizes casualty assistance programs and policies Army-wide, and helps act as a liaison between survivors and various Army programs.

The program was conceived as a joint effort between Installation Management Command-Human Resources, Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation Command, the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. SOS works in conjunction with the Casualty Assistance Center and other Army agencies to ensure that the family members of the fallen Soldier receive outreach and services for as long as they require them.

SOS offers services to the families of the fallen including grief counseling, financial counseling, and benefits coordinating. They are intended to function as long-term support personnel for the survivors of a fallen Soldier and to provide this support for as long as the family members desire, even after the conclusion of the casualty assistance process.  

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