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NEWS | Aug. 7, 2013

Reaching for recovery: Eustis helping survivors

By Airman 1st Class Austin Harvill 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A military lifestyle brings with it a heavy responsibility for family members; the realization that one day their beloved Service member might have to pay the ultimate price for the protection of this country.

When tragedy strikes and that possibility becomes reality, the Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Eustis, Va., are there to help the family of the fallen Service member with all of the planning, finances and counseling they need to cope with their loss.

Created in Feb. 2008 by concerned family members and a military panel, SOS aims to build a unified support program which embraces and reassures survivors they are continually linked to the Army family for as long as they wish, said Rochelle Crockett, SOS programs manager.

"Our desire is to bring family members together who have endured this struggle," said Crockett. "We aren't here to pressure families or to force them to talk about their feelings - we just want them to know their loss won't ever be forgotten."

Crockett shared examples which she said prove the connection and joy the community of survivors have found with one another.

"Last year for one of our potlucks, we had enough funding to provide a caterer," she said. "The family members contacted me and asked me to keep the money because they wanted to bring the food and share it with each other."

These events are not exclusive to the area around Fort Eustis, either. Crockett makes sure to travel to Norfolk every quarter to meet with survivors in the Tidewater Community.

"While we have a larger Army population near Fort Eustis, there are still families by Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach that deserve our attention," said Crockett. "This is a family without boundaries or borders."

In order to aid as many survivors as possible, Crockett works with the National Gold Star Family Registry. More commonly known as Gold Star, it tracks and catalogs the stories and memories of fallen Service members back to World War II. Gold Star families are the surviving families of a fallen hero

One such union between Gold Star and SOS took place July 3, in Hampton, Va., when Donn Weaver, a Gold Star family member, worked with Crockett and the Peninsula Pilots, a local baseball team, to show respect for fallen Service members and their families.

Weaver, who lost his son, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Todd Weaver, set up plans to have his son and other fallen Service members honored and remembered during the Pilots' last game of the season. Weaver and Crockett gathered many other Hampton Roads Gold Star families for the event.

Melissa McDougall, a Gold Star family member, attended the event and praised Crockett and the other families for their continued support, and their drive to put on events for the families and their fallen heroes.

"I really enjoy meeting and being around the other families," said McDougall, who also threw the first pitch for the game. "The whole community has always been there for me and my kids, and [Crockett] always makes an effort to know how all of us are doing - it truly feels like a family."

When Crockett has the chance, she also expands the community beyond the Army with the the help of Gold Star. Frank Patterson, a Gold Star family member, lost his son, U.S. Marine Sgt. Jayton Patterson, and although his son was not in the Army, he never feels excluded from the group.

"This community's love has no boundaries," said Patterson. "No matter which service the heroes belong to, the family accepts and welcomes everyone."

The message of unity is not exclusive to Crockett or the Gold Star family members. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bradley May, Training and Doctrine Command Initial Military Training Center of Excellence deputy commanding general, joined Crockett at the Pilots' game to speak with the families.

"I always look forward to one-on-one time with the families to personally tell them their nation respectss their sacrifice," said May.

U.S. Army Col. William Galbraith, 733rd Mission Support Group commander, agreed with May and hopes to make these visits regularly.

"I plan on coming out here again next year to join the families in remembering their fallen," said Galbraith. "I want them to know what an honor it is to have them in our community."

Military families realize that someday, they might receive the worst possible news; their Service member has paid the ultimate price for their freedom. But no matter how alone they might feel, Crockett, May, Weaver and so many others stand by, ready to accept them into their family and support them through their tragedy.