Story and photo by Geoffrey Roper
Survivor Outreach Services brought in coordinators from 19 states who work specifically with the Army Reserve and National Guard for their quarterly conference May 12-13.
The coordinators, coming from as far as Alaska, were educated on dealing with survivors, such as handling a variety of emotional situations, working with children and how to offer basic financial counseling.
The conference speakers were current SOS employees and volunteers who spoke about their experiences and various scenarios that can occur when dealing with survivors. Some were survivors themselves, and they gave a deeper personal perspective on what they went through and go through emotionally after losing a loved one.
Milly Briseno is a volunteer with the SOS at Fort Carson. She spoke about losing her husband and how having someone there as an advocate helped her through some tough times.
“Sharing my story, my hope is that our organization and any role we play in the community, would be one of being an advocate for survivors,” said Briseno. “If there’s any way that we can help those who care for survivors and support survivors, to be a little more aware of maybe a survivor’s mindset … it will help develop their professional compassion in caring for Families.”
Eric Jackson, Fort Carson’s SOS financial counselor, said training sessions like these help coordinators working with Army National Guardsmen and Reservists because they do not always have access to high numbers of individuals.
“Some of them haven’t met with too many survivors so far. It’s not like here, where there’s a large population of survivors who come to a post and participate in regular activities. So they’re gaining different perspectives and increasing their knowledge with this continuing education,” he said.
One of those benefiting from the conference was Joe Warren, SOS coordinator for the Army National Guard in Montana.
“Having the survivors come and tell their story, you know, that’s pretty powerful. We learn some of the things they’ve gone through with their casualty assistance officer, and we can share that with our people so that they don’t make mistakes that (can) make it harder on survivors,” said Warren.
The SOS is dedicated solely to helping survivors of deceased servicemembers, and one of its most important aspects is making sure survivors feel they are still a part of the Army family. Many say this is the most significant role the SOS plays in their lives.
“A lot of the Families have dedicated their lives to the mission of the United States being in war and standing behind their Soldier,” said Charlene Westbrook, widow of Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook and SOS coordinator. “If we were just kicked off, or just pushed aside, that would be just terrible. So I think it’s very important that the SOS has been created to help Families feel they are still a part of this military community. For them to embrace us like that is very, very important.”