On July 27, 2016 a pair of families participating in a Survivor’s Outreach program arrived at the Army Community Service building on Joint base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.
Among them was nine-year-old Ashleigh Quick.
Ashleigh Quick explained why she was involved in the Survivor’s Outreach Program.
“My dad died,” said Quick. “Because of a sickness in the military.”
Quick’s father was a Soldier that deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan before losing his life due to complications from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) this past Christmas.
He is buried in section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Helping children deal with the loss of a family member is not altogether removed from how to deal with any event that brings about grief, like the loss of a job, children going off to college or leaving the military for civilian life, said Kristi Pappas, organizer of the event and the Survivor Outreach Support Coordinator for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
It was 35 years ago last week Pappas lived through a traumatic accident of her own.
Pappas was working at a Hyatt Hotel in Kansas City. During an early evening tea dance, a “perfect storm” of factors came together to cause one of the worst structural collapses in U.S. History, the death toll only second to the World Trade Center Collapse on 9/11.
The aftermath of the collapse left 114 people killed and 216 people injured.
“Had it been five minutes earlier, I would have been under it,” said Pappas.
Living through the ordeal taught Pappas a lesson she hoped to impart to children like Quick and her sister, Hannah Quick.
“It changes your life,” said Pappas. “But you can get it under control, and you can move through it and come out on the other side.”
Pappas moved on from the trauma and a decade later commissioned in the Army as a Chaplain, a position she held for 23 years.
“I know you can come out as a ‘thriver’,” said Pappas. “That you don’t get stuck in surviving.”
Pappas said a key to dealing with trauma is to accept the new circumstance.
“You come to understand a new normal,” said Pappas. “What’s that new normal? Whatever you make it.”
The children that attended took a daylong tour along side the men and women in The Old Guard with stops at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Caisson Stables and a performance of Twilight Tattoo.
“Remembering their mom or dad, but carrying them into the future,” said Pappas. “And a different understanding or relationship with The Old Guard, who they have seen bury their mom or dad.”
Helping the children gain an understanding of what The Old Guard does and how they serve will help these children coping with loss see a new perspective, said Pappas.
“Seeing the Soldiers of The Old Guard become a symbol of grief,” said Pappas. “Well, those Soldiers are just doing their job. Just like their mom or dad did their job.”
The tour helps to personalize and de-stigmatize The Old Guard in the minds of these children, said Pappas.
The day began with creating tote bags out of uniforms that represented the branch their loved one served in.
Pappas said creative projects like the tote bags help to rewire the brain and deal with traumatic stress.
“They will be carrying a piece of their mom and dad with them,” said Pappas. “It also allows the children to have something that they can carry with them to remind them of their lost parent or sibling.”
One of the adults who attended the Survivor’s Outreach Old Guard tour was Lupe G. MaGuire, a Gold Star wife whose husband had passed away 10 years ago while he was on active duty.
Lupe is a member and volunteer at the Fort Belvoir Survivor’s group and thought the tour was an excellent learning opportunity for her grandsons John B. Garza and Caleb A. Garza.
John and Caleb Garza’s father is a former Marine and is currently a Police Officer.
“I want my grandkids to be aware of our nation, our country, and what our military does for us,” said Lupe. “For them to be aware of what our country has done and has suffered.”
MaGuire said she would urge Gold Star families to participate in events like this because it is an excellent experience.
Ashleigh Quick’s 10-year-old sister Hannah Quick was also in attendance for the day’s tour.
Hannah Quick was not excited about the day at Fort Myer when she found out about it.
But the day spent with The Old Guard changed her mind.
“Everybody was just really nice,” said Hannah Quick.
“I felt happy to have my mind off of what happened,” said Hannah Quick. “I mean if this does happen to you, you need to stay by your family, hold them tight, because if this happens you will never know what will happen next.”
Hannah Quick said she was impressed with The Old Guard, events like this one were helpful in learning to deal with what Pappas described as “the new normal.”
“You were with people that were nice, and also with people that have gone through what you have gone through, maybe not in the same way, like not the same person. But they have definitely lost someone.”
“I definitely would recommend to everybody this type of thing, it helps a lot,” said Ashleigh Quick.
“It takes your mind off things, so you aren’t sad,” said Ashleigh Quick.
Just as someone is a Soldier for life, the Family of that Soldier is a member of the Army Family for life, said Pappas.
“That relationship is still there,” said Pappas. “Especially for someone who has lost a loved one.”