In today’s society, it seems everyone wants to be a star. But being a Gold Star mother is a designation no mom wants to have.
“This is one club I don’t want to belong to,” said Jennifer Owens, whose daughter, Spc. Ember Alt of Killeen, was killed June 18 by indirect enemy fire in Afghanistan.
Owens and a handful of other Texas mothers who lost children who were on active military service gathered at Fort Hood’s Survivor Outreach Services office Saturday in honor of “Gold Star Mother’s Day,” a day designated by Congress to honor the sacrifices of their continued service.
Upon the loss of their active-duty soldier, SOS connects military families with counseling resources and dependent indemnity compensation based on the income of the soldier. Additional benefits are in place at Fort Hood to make access to the installation easier for these parents.
“We provide them with a survivor post decal and a special identification card. We take the photos in the SOS office to make it as convenient as possible,” said James Elzie, Fort Hood’s SOS program manager,
Elzie’s area of responsibility includes 865 households and 175 counties in Texas.
“SOS is part of the in-processing checklist when a soldier has died. We can then immediately meet with the parents, offer counseling on the spot, and see what their needs are including conflict resolution and financial benefits,” Elzie said.
Owens said she was happy with the help she received from the Army, especially from the casualty assistance officer.
“I realize that this is the job he had to do. But, he didn’t make it feel like a job,” she said. “He took pride in what he did and continued to check on me and make sure I was OK.”
Although Alt was married, upon her death she named her mother the primary beneficiary.
“She left me in charge of everything and I started thinking about her flag. The Army is supposed to give one flag to her next of kin at the funeral, which means it would go to her husband. I wanted a flag, too,” Owens said. “The Army agreed to give us both one. (The Army) has gone out of its way to be accommodating.”
Owens returned to work three weeks after her daughter’s death and collapsed on the job. She was sent to a counselor through SOS.
“Before I knew it, I had been talking to him for three hours,” Owens said. “SOS has a caseworker that I know I can call at any time. They are there if I need them, but they don’t intrude.”
The only thing that has bothered Owens is the Army’s promise to send her a copy of her daughter’s autopsy report.
“The (casualty officer) said it was on its way, but I still have not received it,” said Owens, who also expressed concern over closure with her daughter’s death.
“I became very attached to our (casualty officer) because he went with me through the grieving process,” she said. “I would tell him to let me know when his time with me was ending. But he told me that it was different for each parent and he was there as long as I needed him.”
Owens said she still has good days and bad days since losing her daughter, a Killeen High School track star, just three months ago. Owens wears a dog tag with her daughter’s photo and a wrist band with her life dates.
“I never know what I am going to come home to. Sometimes I still get mail for Ember and occasional phone calls and they take me right back.”