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Gold Star family copes with loss

For Terra Good, a Gold Star spouse, who is also an Army civilian with the Security Assistance Command in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, being Army Strong is more than a motto; it is a way of life.

Over the course of their marriage, Terra and her husband, Lt. Col. Jason Good, a 20-year combat veteran with six tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, spent more than five years apart due to his military duties and assignments.

“We often mused that the key to a successful marriage was deployments,” Good said. “Between his schools, field time, pre-deployment training, and deployments, it felt like we were married just a few short years, so I had to be strong.”

In 2015, Good, her husband, and two children finally settled down together in a small town in central Pennsylvania when Jason assumed command of the New Cumberland Regional office of the Defense Contract Management Agency.

Good initially sought work as a special education teacher and school administrator but suffered credentialing issues like many military spouses that move a lot. At Jason’s suggestion, she applied for a civil service position with the Army.

“I ended up as the international fellows plans and operations officer at the Army War College, at Carlisle Barracks,” she said. “It was an excellent assignment with the most amazing people.”

Jason, known as Goody to friends and family, fell right into his duties as a regional commander and over the next year became well-known as the face of DCMA after starring in an agency video, “What DCMA Does,” which can be found on DVIDShub.net.

Jason had also been notified that he was selected by the senior service boards to attend the Army War College, a stepping stone to increased senior leadership assignments and responsibilities.

“He was very proud of that selection which he viewed as a benchmark to a successful career,” Good said.

Then on Feb. 6, 2018, Jason woke up feeling a little “off.”

“We thought it was just cold-like symptoms he had been fighting the past few days,” Good said. “He decided to rest a bit longer, but unfortunately he never woke up.”

The autopsy revealed he had an acute aortic dissection.

“Jason’s passing was by far the hardest life hurdle I have had to deal with. The support we received from the Army, and the Carlisle Barracks installation, was heartfelt,” she said. “It is a small community and during our tragic time, they embraced us and lifted us up.”

Good and her family would benefit from that close knit community.

“The Army has worked hard to improve the casualty assistance process and I was fortunate enough to have a positive experience during a tragic time,” she said. “The installation we were stationed was very small and that yielded immediate support from the garrison personnel and the commanding general. In fact, my casualty affairs officer was a former classmate of Jason’s at West Point, which was an added support and benefit.”

Being at Carlisle Barracks and working at the War College allowed the Good family to stay immersed in friendships formed by years of shared military assignments.

In 2019, a promotion opportunity presented itself as the USASAC liaison office program manager.

“I applied because I needed a fresh start and felt this position was a way to build on what I had learned at the international program at the War College,” she said.

Here she was responsible for coordinating, managing and assisting 16 ally and partner security assistance liaison officers that were assigned by their country’s military to USASAC to support their countries’ foreign military sales cases.

“The ability to foster relationships with our global partners, and assist the officers and their families to understand and navigate the U.S. systems, is a rewarding job and one I am most grateful for,” Good said.

“To be honest, I still struggle with the realization of being a Gold Star family,” she said.

And Good sees there is a common misconception of what a Gold Star family is.

The title, is reserved for families of military members who have died while in uniform, whether in combat or through accidents, illness or suicide. It pays tribute to the military member’s ultimate sacrifice while honoring and acknowledging their family’s loss, grief and healing process.

To honor those families, Congress, in 1936, designated the last Sunday in September as “Gold Star Mother’s Day, which was amended by Presidential Proclamation in 2011 to “Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.” This year that day is Sept. 27.

“I connected with Gold Star spouses of Jason’s classmates at West Point, Class of ‘98,” Good said. “This group has been a staple in helping me navigate my way through the healing process.”

To support families of fallen ’98 classmates, the class developed a nonprofit site, the98Fund.org, and the Alaska Project, where each year the class flies children of fallen classmates to Alaska for a week of, not only adventure, but unity.

Alaska is also home to the “Gold Star Peak,” a mountain peak located in Chugach State Park that was named as a permanent memorial to Gold Star families.

“During the summer of 2019, the kids and I had the unbelievable fortune to hike this mountain,” Good said.

“There is a monument at the top and each family hung a dog tag with their service members name on it. Then, we stood and listened to the wind blowing our tags, and all of those who climbed before us, like wind chimes in the breeze. To describe how powerful and touching this moment was is not possible in words. You have to experience it, to understand it.”

The Gold Star pin that families wear is also a connection.

“It is an immediate understanding of loss, pain and the journey, and an opportunity to engage in dialogue and talk to someone who ‘gets it,’” Good said.

“I hope spouses going through this realize they’re not alone,” she said. “Reach out – engage with others – know that there is a lot of life left to live.”

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