On an evening of remembrance, survivors honored the sacrifice of family members who gave their all in service to the nation.
The Space and Missile Defense Command hosted a holiday party for the families of Survivor Outreach Services at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens Nov. 22. More than 100 family members and guests attended.
“This is a hard time of year for survivors who miss having their loved ones home for the holidays and it gives us a chance to show them a little holiday cheer,” Kerrie Branson, SOS coordinator for Redstone Arsenal, said. “The outreach provides a chance for volunteers to give out some comfort hugs to survivors. Hugs can go a long way and makes them feel like someone cares.”
Branson said it is important to have an event like this around the holidays because it provides a chance to bring new and more seasoned survivors together to promote mentorship between them to help newer survivors through their grief.
“There is an unspoken common bond between them and it helps them to know others understand what they are going through. It’s also a way to let them know that the military supports them and will continue to remember their loved ones’ service and sacrifice,” she said. “They are amazing people who are much stronger than they think they are. I know they are hurting but I also know that they have a resiliency to push forward and fight to keep their loved ones’ memories alive. They love their military family and appreciate SMDC’s long-term support so much. I hope that the command knows how much it means to them that they have such a strong partnership with the SOS program.”
One survivor said she was appreciative of all those who came out to support the Gold Star families who were present and that these events mean more than people will ever know.
“These events make me glad people are thinking of us enough to do this,” said Kylee Little, daughter of Spc. Kyle Little who served with the 3rd Infantry Division. “I have dealt with this for a while, and I feel I can help other kids here going through this season.”
A spouse of a fallen Soldier said she was grateful for SOS and SMDC for hosting an event during the holiday season and recommended that others reach out to SOS and join.
“This means a lot,” said Jennifer Henderson, who lost her husband Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Henderson who served with the 1st Infantry Division. “When you transfer out of the military world you kind of feel lost, and when you come here you are back in a community. When you are out in the civilian world, you may not feel as connected. When you come here, you instantly feel the connection of people who are two months or 20 years.
“Christmas was Chris’ favorite holiday so for us it always means a lot. This is the star on top of the tree this season.”
The event included creating a keepsake ornament for survivors to write their loved one’s name to put on tree, an interactive singing session, various group events and enjoying a hot chocolate bar prior to beginning the garden’s Galaxy of Lights Walking Trail.
One SMDC volunteer said he wanted to help out because one of the reasons he joined the Army is to serve any way he can.
“If we can do any tiny little thing to give, that is what we need to do and what we should do,” Trent Huntsinger, SMDC G-3 noncommissioned officer in charge, said. “This time of year is sometimes hard, and if they have lost a family member, it can be even more difficult. This is awesome that volunteers in our command at SMDC are willing to do this just to bring these survivors together to remind them they are not really alone.”
As the event began to end, retired Capt. Mike Rose, Medal of Honor recipient and surviving family member of his fallen son-in-law, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Scott Bowen, offered thanks to Redstone Arsenal and local community members for their support of Soldiers and their families, especially fellow Gold Star families.
“What our fallen Soldiers have done for you and me and people who are not even born yet is protect that thing called the U.S. Constitution,” Rose said. “This is the greatest country in the world. More diverse people from different ethnic groups and religions have prospered in this country than in any place else. And that is only because a sacrifice has been made in blood.
“To paraphrase Gen. George Patton, we shouldn’t mourn the loss of their lives, but we should celebrate that men and women like this lived.”