Joint Base Langley-Eustis

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Families of fallen recognized at ‘Thanks for Giving’ event

By Tech. Sgt. Katie Gar Ward | 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | November 17, 2017


Imagine preparing the table for a Thanksgiving meal—the centerpiece is perfectly situated, crystal glassware is sparkling and the coordinating colors are something out of a magazine. But as you begin arranging each place setting, your heart drops— you’ve just remembered one chair will be empty this year.

While setting a dinner table may be a seemingly trivial routine, for Gold Star families, it is a harsh reminder their loved ones won’t be joining them for a holiday meal this year, or any to come.

To honor those fallen service members, Survivor Outreach Services hosted a “Thanks for Giving” holiday potluck and social, Nov. 16, 2017, at the Fort Eustis Club.

According to Rochelle Crockett, SOS support coordinator, the annual event, now in its seventh year, is a way to let Gold Star families know their sacrifice is not forgotten.

“It is our way of saying thanks for giving to our nation, our state and our surrounding communities,” said Crockett. “This is how we acknowledge the difficulties some families experience because their service member will not be sitting with them at the table. We want them to know we remember each of them during this time of year.”

That heartfelt effort resonated with Mark and Nancy Stets, who lost their son, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, in 2010.

It’s a chance to realize there’s not just one family that loses someone—there’s a whole group,” said Mark Stets. “When your warrior initially dies, you think he’s the only one. Then once you get out of your cloud, you see and realize there’s a whole lot who are gone.”

At this year’s event, families connected over music performed by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command brass band, a meal served by community organizations and a talent showcase.

For many of these Gold Star Families, the “Thanks for Giving” event is more than just a meal—it’s a way to pay homage to their loved ones.

“One year a community supporter stated they could cater this event, but when sharing what I thought was good news, the family members said they actually really enjoyed bringing food to share,” said Crockett. “That’s because our families come out and share a dish that may have been a favorite of their service member, and they didn’t want to stop doing that.”

As guest speaker for the event, Maj. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, Fort Eustis’ senior commander Army element, also emphasized the importance of supporting one another during the holiday season.

“This is a way to share something of ourselves, whether it’s a family tradition through a delicious dish, our memories of past holidays, or the opportunity to just share time together,” said Frost. “The holidays are joyous times and allow us to reflect on the many blessings we have—each other and our families. The Army is one big family, and this is a great opportunity to come together and give thanks.”

According to Stets, the most important aspect of the “Thanks for Giving” event is the chance to bond with other Gold Star Families.

“When you get to talking with some of these families, and ask about who they lost, they start describing their son, and then I think, ‘Wow, they’re describing my son,’” said Stets. “And that’s the Army family.”

Although these Gold Star families may be continually reminded of their fallen loved ones during the holidays, events hosted by SOS remind them they are not alone—that their family member is remembered through each and every one of them, and they have an extended family of support, no matter the season.

Gold Star; family; army; thanksgiving; holiday; battle buddy; survivor

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