By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Family by family, children walked down a short red carpet to a line of official-looking men. They were prodded or carried forward by moms, grandpas, grandmas and aunts as they heard their dads' names called aloud.
The children bowed their heads like those they watched before them and a gold medal was slipped around their necks.
Children from 35 families were awarded the Presidential Gold Medal of Remembrance Sunday morning at Fort Hood's Resiliency Campus. The medal, issued by the White House Commission on Remembrance, recognizes and honors children who lost parents who lost their lives in combat or after returning from combat in the Middle East and Afghanistan, according to information from the commission.
"It effectively reminds everyone that casualties are found on the home front as well as on the battlefield," read information from www.remember.gov.
It's not enough, but "it's what we have," said U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.
He thanked the children and told them to keep their fathers in their hearts.
"I consider you as big as heroes as anybody who lives on this earth," he told the families before him.
Never has U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, been in the presence of so many who sacrificed so much, he said. He told the children to always remember that their fathers loved them and were willing to do so much so they could grow up free.
Those who received medals Sunday were just a handful of about 140 who participated in a weekend camp for Gold Star families. Fort Hood, in conjunction with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), hosted a regional seminar/Good Grief Camp where parents, siblings, spouses and children of fallen service members attended workshops and participated in support groups. The event was designed to help loved ones cope with life after loss and show them that they are not alone, according to information from TAPS' Web site, www.taps.org.
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, III Corps and Fort Hood commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, the corps' and post's senior noncommissioned officer, attended several camp events, speaking with Gold Star family members.
"Know that our nation acknowledges your sacrifice. Know our nation will remember the love, celebrate the life and share the journey," Lynch said Sunday, echoing TAPS' motto.
Sgt. 1st Class Christoffer Hans Tjaden, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade, died Jan. 25 at Fort Hood. His wife, Angela, and four children, Erika, Nicolaas, Hannah and Samuel, attended the camp and Sunday's ceremony.
Angela, who lives in Ding Dong, was at first reluctant to bring her family to the camp because she didn't want to relive their loss all over again, she said Sunday. It turned out to be a good decision, though, because she and her children met others who understood. There are people who go through the same grief and miss their husbands and dads just as much as the Tjadens, Angela said.
"They needed it," she said of her four children.
It was also important that the Tjadens get to interact with soldiers again. During many of the weekend's activities, children were paired with Fort Hood soldiers who volunteered to serve as mentors. They were cool, really nice and funny, said 12-year-old Hannah. She plans on keeping in touch with several she spent time with, including Staff Sgt. Ashley Parker.
Parker, a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, volunteered because she wanted to give back to children. Her fiancé, Sgt. Deangelo Mohead, is deployed with the brigade's 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, and she has served four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Parker has a 7-year-old son and if she didn't make it back, she'd want someone to be there for her son, she said.
She developed relationships with several of the children during the camp and learned that they are brave and tough. Many try to be strong for their parents and their brothers and sisters, Parker said.
The Tjadens made friends they'll keep forever, Angela said.
Hannah said her dad would be proud of her for attending the camp and accepting the Presidential Gold Medal of Remembrance. Angela said her husband was a good soldier, loved his country and loved what he did. Hannah misses him, especially his cooking.
"He was a good guy," she said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.