Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey spoke to survivors at the first Association of the U.S. Army Survivor Outreach Services forum, held in Washington.
Before SOS, programs such as Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and Helping Unit Gold Star Survivors were nonprofit organizations assisting families. SOS was born under the Army Family Covenant in 2008 as the demand for survivor services rose. SOS is offered through Army Community Services and provides families with grief counseling, financial planning, and assistance with applying for benefits.
Casey, who lost his father in Vietnam, said “if you haven’t been through it, you don’t get it,” and reassured survivors the Army would continue to support them. “You need to know that your loved ones sacrifice is both recognized and appreciated and won’t be forgotten that’s our commitment to you,” he said to the audience of nearly 1300. The forum gave survivors the opportunity to share their stories.
“(On) our journey as a mom and dad, we had no connection with any families who had ever lost a child, let alone one in war,” said Deborah Tainsh, whose son, Patrick, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004.
Tainsh, a member of TAPS, has been helping families deal with loss since 2006. She is the author of a book detailing the grief and loss of her son and has become an advocate for survivors.
“With the right leadership, right compassion, right individuals you have set a precedent for the families that follow us,” she said, about the path SOS continues to follow. “Hopefully, (they) will not endure some of the many pains and shortcomings we did in the past.”
Nickayla Myers-Garner, a teacher from Hohenfels, Germany, lost her husband, Capt. Mark Garner, July 6, 2009, when an IED detonated near his vehicle in Afghanistan. Before he left for his third deployment, the couple discussed the possibility of death and funeral arrangements, she said.
“Mark planned his funeral, I only implemented it,” Nickayla said. “I was lucky I had that, it was a gift that Mark gave me.”
Myers-Garner spoke to the families about preparing “what if” scenarios so that they can implement their Soldier’s final wishes if necessary. The plans should also extend to other family members in the event something unexpected happens.
“We need to help our family members and Soldiers think about the unthinkable. Because quite frankly, death is inevitable,” she said.
Before 2008, families felt disconnected with the Army after the death of their service member, many of the survivors said.
The SOS program is in its infancy, Casey said.
“The work that you all did here over the past couple of days is coming at the right time. It’s going to allow us to move forward much more rapidly with your suggestions than we would have been able to do a couple of years ago,” he said.
Want to learn more about Survivor Outreach Services? Visit them on the web at www.ARMYOneSource.com. Visit the Fort Benning SOS website at http://www.benningmwr.com/acs-sos.php to get information on benefits, financial counseling and support services. You can also download the monthly SOS newsletter.
Nov. 12-13 Fort Benning Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp The TAPS Survivor Seminar provides an opportunity for survivors to join together. Highlights include information, resources and making contacts with fellow survivors. The Good Grief Camp is designed for children and teens and teaches coping skills and establishes support systems.