The Space and Missile Defense Command’s Survivor Outreach Services partner and one of Redstone Arsenal’s greatest supporter of Gold Star families is retiring and beginning a new slower paced life.
Kerrie Branson, Redstone Arsenal’s SOS coordinator, said she has been honored to support local families of the fallen since August 2011.
“It’s been a life changing job that, regardless of intentions, develops into long-lasting relationships that will last for years to come,” Branson said. “I hope I’ve been able to provide a sense of light in their fog and a feeling of hope in their despair.”
Branson said SMDC initiated a partnership with the SOS program in 2011 and that it still remains strong.
“The SOS position is what it is today because of the support the program received from USASMDC,” she said. “The command’s presence at the outreach events we provided through the years ensures survivors are remembered and their loved one’s service and sacrifice is not taken for granted. The events helped forge a way for survivors to get to know other survivors who understand their grief, and it gave an opportunity for them to mentor each other. New survivors are able to see more experienced survivors and realize that they are going to be OK and learn to take one step at a time.”
Over the 10-year partnership, SMDC has hosted dozens of events for SOS families, including a Cinco de Mayo event, a 1950s Retro Bash, numerous spring and fall festivals, NASA-themed events, and holiday parties, among others.
“The command would show up with costumes for every occasion ready to greet families with a smile and a hug,” Branson said. “They came ready to play with surviving kids, lead memorial crafts and special events, and ready to set up and clean up. There was also an endless supply of side dishes and desserts made and served by volunteers with a smile. I appreciate Phillis Reid taking the lead on ensuring our planning meetings happened. She put her whole heart into making events special.”
Reid, a paralegal specialist with SMDC’s Legal Office, has volunteered as the command’s SOS project officer since 2013.
“Our volunteers are amazing!” Reid said. “They put their whole heart and soul into supporting these events, and they are dedicated to ensuring survivors always know they are part of our SMDC Army family. It was such an honor working with Kerrie to support survivors. Her dedication and compassion for the families of the fallen is unmatched – there is no doubt that she loves all the families and they love her. She will truly be missed by the Gold Star families and by the SMDC volunteers who have supported our SOS events time and time again.”
SMDC has also hosted Memorial Day events for Gold Star families where the Gold Star flag is raised at the command’s Redstone Arsenal headquarters and the survivor families are invited to place a rose at the base of the flag pole for their loved ones. The command also hosted a ceremony at Bicentennial Chapel where a Gold Star banner was unveiled for permanent display to remind parishioners to pray for these families.
Branson said SMDC’s contributions to the program are too many to count.
“One of the most important contributions is the opportunity survivors had to discuss issues with senior leaders so they could be addressed,” Branson said. “Knowing I had the support of senior leaders as I worked to help survivors was life changing in some cases.”
Branson’s last official day as the SOS coordinator was March 26, but her last SOS event was a Drive of Honor for Gold Star Spouses, March 28. She said her next chapter is going to be quite different from what she is used to. After 10 years as an Army civilian and 20 years as a military spouse, she and her husband are retiring to a farm in Tennessee with plans to garden and take care of her donkeys, goats and chickens, but she said SOS and SMDC would always be special to her.
“I leave with a grateful heart for all the friendships I made with SMDC’s employees, and I hope they know what a difference they make in the lives of survivors,” Branson said. “I also hope they will continue to support the program long after I am gone. After all, these families are the living legacies of our American heroes.”
Reid affirmed SMDC’s commitment to Redstone Arsenal’s SOS program and the families of fallen heroes.
“We have built relationships with these families and have watched them grow and change,” Reid said. “This partnership really is a commitment by the Army to make sure these families know they are a part of the Army family and they always will be. Going forward, our SOS volunteers remain committed to supporting Redstone’s SOS program to ensure our Gold Star families always know that we here at SMDC will never forget their loved one and their sacrifices.”