Story and photo by Dustin Senger
A ribbon-cutting ceremony revealed a renovated Fallen Heroes Family Center at Fort Carson Oct. 14, in support of the installation’s recently established Survivor Outreach Services.
“The mission of Survivor Outreach Services is to expand and improve services to survivors,” said Col. Robert F. McLaughlin, garrison commander, standing at an outdoor podium facing community leaders, supporters, volunteers and several survivors of deceased servicemembers.
“We’ll improve responsiveness and streamline the assistance process for families of the fallen,” said McLaughlin. He highlighted the need for “programs with passion” to keep survivors connected to the Army. “Most importantly, we’ll ensure continuity for those who care so much.”
“We never leave a fallen comrade or their family and this is our commitment to them,” said McLaughlin, who described the outreach services as caring, committed and survivor-orientated. He said the center supports a five-state area: Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Utah.
“This program had been needed for a long time,” said Angela Gunn, SOS interim program manager. “Survivors had felt cut off from the military – that’s a lot of the feedback we got,” referring to focus groups at Fort Carson in 2009.
“They are grateful to have a place to come to now,” says Gunn, “a place that focuses on their needs and what they’re going through. They have staff that’s sensitive to their needs.”
The Fallen Heroes Family Center began as the Carson House in 1946, according to Nannette Byrne-Haupt, SOS family support coordinator and surviving spouse of Staff Sgt. Ryan E. Haupt, who died in 2006 of wounds from a blast in Baqubah, Iraq.
“The Carson House was a facility designed to accommodate military families in transition,” said Byrne-Haupt. “The former Carson House continues to stand tall by providing long-term care for our families of the fallen.”
Community philanthropy represents roughly 85-90 percent of the structural upgrades and added furnishings, according to Byrne-Haupt. Donations of funds, supplies and labor poured in from nearly 60 organizations and individuals, as well as numerous others who volunteered but never left their names.
Following the ribbon cutting, a guided tour explained the modernized, single-story rambler, where survivors seek out support groups or one-on-one counselors – or simply relax in a home-like atmosphere.
Visitors strolled through various areas allocated for an assortment of purposes. The main entry and waiting area connects to a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a bistro-style dining area.
Smiles lit up the resource library and relaxation room, where a 42-inch LCD television and two massaging recliner chairs temporarily sideline worries and rub out tensions. Two bookshelves are ready to hold literature and music.
A meeting room combines wood panel floors and soft couches, neighbored by a kids’ room garnished with toys and video games.
Survivors are encouraged to provide photographs for the Wall of Remembrance. During the opening, 21 portraits hung under the heading: “Remember the Love, Celebrate the Life, Share the Journey.”
“Contributing to the Wall of Remembrance is a nice segue into the program,” says Byrne-Haupt. “It personalizes the program … it makes them feel welcomed.”
“All the people here are loved by their families,” said Richard R. Stites, while standing in front of the Wall of Remembrance. “They are all important.” Stites posted a photograph of his son, Pvt. Nolan E. Stites, who died of suicide in 2000. He encourages survivors to discuss their traumatic losses.
Trees have been planted to honor fallen heroes in the backyard serenity garden, which basks in a majestic view of the Rocky Mountains. Memorial bricks will soon be placed with names and messages, according to Byrne-Haupt.
“We now have a home for survivors to help in healing,” said McLaughlin. Volunteers helped construct the center and they’re needed to sustain it, he said.
Byrne-Haupt is writing memorandums of agreement to enlist the on-site assistance of several nonprofit organizations, each dedicated to helping families cope after a catastrophic loss. Committees will meet regularly to discuss services, to include mentoring, remembrance and outreach initiatives.
SOS is an Armywide program headed by Installation Management Command; Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command; Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operation Center; Army National Guard; and Army Reserve.