Justin Grayson, 8, son of late Sgt. 1st Class Tristen Grayson, made a beeline to the vertical climbing wall. His mother, Dana Grayson, and his great grandmother Linda Lambwright trailed behind him.
“He’s a pretty tough boy, but when it comes to heights, I don’t know,” Dana said, as she shook her outstretched palm side to side.
The Graysons were some of the 67 Gold Star Family members who attended the Fort Bragg Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) Carnival Saturday at the SOS main building. The organization have been organizing this event since 2010 and has thrown 11 of these fares.
“It’s our first carnival with Survivor Outreach Services,” Dana said. “My son loves stuff like this, so I decided to bring him.”
Dana’s husband died eight months ago, so for Dana and her son who live out in Cedar Creek, North Carolina, SOS events means a lot to her because she can meet and seek support from others who can identify with her.
“They’re very compassionate,” she said. “I just like the fact that, being originally from here, and having this base and having access to it so close by has been a blessing. I know there are a lot of people who, if they want to go back home, they may not be near a base; they may not have that kind of support.”
For Dana, an event like the carnival is beneficial for Gold Star Families, not only for spouses, but more so for the kids. Just to be able to attend an event geared towards Gold Star kids means a lot to her, she said.
“That’s where my heart just breaks because it’s hard to lose a parent, especially — from my personally experience — my husband was very involved with my son,” she said. “It’s just great to be around this atmosphere and around people who have been through the same thing.”
According to Charlotte Watson, SOS program manager, the organization started hosting carnivals for Gold Star Families because they wanted an event that was fun for the Families to enjoy and meet other Families without any awkwardness.
“They can just walk around and talk,” Watson said. “And then it became kind of a thing that our Families started looking forward to, so we decided to make it an annual carnival.”
The carnival used to be held in the spring, but in 2011 when former president Barack Obama declared the last Sunday of September to be Gold Star mother's and Family's day, Watson said the SOS decided to keep up with the theme and host it in the fall.
“A lot of the time people focus on the suffering the parents or the spouses, but the children are also suffering,” she said. “So this is an opportunity just for them to be with kids to be in similar situations, losing of a parent. And they don’t have to talk, the bond that you see them build is amazing.”
Watson said it is extremely important for the entire Army to let the surviving Families know they are never forgotten.
“This is one of the ways we can honor that sacrifice,” she said. “The younger children, we’ve noticed, feel a little different because they don’t have both parents. Knowing that all these kids here have lost somebody, they’re not alone. That’s huge; they need that.”
It is also important for Fort Bragg to continue its support to Gold Star Families, said Col. Kyle Reed, garrison commander.
“It’s also for them to get out, and interact with each other, and experience things, go through some of those challenges together, and have a lifeline that they can call and be able to communicate with the people who are going through the same challenges,” Reed said.
Fort Bragg and the SOS are relentless in perpetuity to Gold Star Families because they paid the ultimate sacrifice, he added.
“We cannot and will not forget those Families,” Reed said. “It is now our turn to pick up the mantle of responsibility to ensure that they have not been forgotten.