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Reaching out: Fort Rucker treats Gold Star Families to day at simulator

Jazmin Rhodes and Leo Reyna, Gold Star family members, take to the skies in a UH-60 Black Hawk simulator as CW4 Peter Jesse, B Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, shows them the ropes during Gold Star Simulator Day at the Goodhand Simulator Complex April 2. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Jazmin Rhodes and Leo Reyna, Gold Star family members, take to the skies in a UH-60 Black Hawk simulator as CW4 Peter Jesse, B Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, shows them the ropes during Gold Star Simulator Day at the Goodhand Simulator Complex April 2. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: April 7, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 7, 2016) -- Being part of the Army family extends far beyond the Soldiers who serve in the Army, but also to the family members whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the nation.

That’s why Fort Rucker’s Survivor Outreach Services hosted its third Gold Star Simulator Day at the Goodhand Simulator Complex April 2 where 48 Gold Star family members, representing 14 fallen service members, received a taste of what Soldiers go through while training here on post.

A Gold Star family member is a designation given to spouses, parents and other family members of fallen service members, and Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander, was on hand during the event to welcome families and show her appreciation for the sacrifice that they and their Soldier made.

“We’re extremely honored and privileged that you’re all able to join us today,” she said before families took to the simulators. “Anytime that we can reach out to be a part of our Gold Star families and reunite to enjoy some of these great experiences we have at Fort Rucker, it’s an honor for us to be able to have that camaraderie with you all. That represents the total Army family and I want to thank you all.”

Throughout the tour of the simulator complex, families rotated in groups of 10 and got the chance to try their hand at flying in simulators ranging from the UH-60 Black Hawk to the CH-47 Chinook, and for many, the experience was a chance to not only get a glimpse into the training of Soldiers, but to bond with other family members.

“Being involved in Survivor Outreach Services has helped a lot because you get to know other people who are grieving also,” said Sheila McCary, Gold Star family member, who lost her son, Sgt. Ricky Jones, in June of 2009. “Everyone grieves differently, but we get to talk to each other and tell each other our stories, so it helps a lot to be able to process through the stages.

“We love to come out because the children are having a good time and they love it,” she continued. “Getting to share these experiences and to still be a part of the Army family after all this time just makes you feel good.”

Making sure the families are taken care of no matter how long ago they lost their service member is the main goal of SOS, according to Rick Kohl, SOS support coordinator, and an event like the Gold Star Simulator Day is a perfect occasion to make those lasting connections.

“Gold Star Simulator Day is a special time for the survivor and Gold Star families to spend time together and experience a small part of Army Aviation training,” he said. “The experience connects the family members to their Soldiers’ Army training and helps them feel connected to each other.”

Kohl said that SOS is often the only way that families are able to stay connected to the Army family and it’s through that connection that they are able to develop a deeper understanding of their service member’s experiences.

“That deeper understanding assists in the grieving process,” said the SOS support coordinator. “Being together with other Gold Star families allows for the family members to talk with one another, and these discussions are often deeply meaningful. Outreach events, like Gold Star Simulator Day, help us maintain our commitment to families of the fallen and to continue to recognize their sacrifice.”

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