Fort McCoy News June 28, 2013

Access to posts eased for Families of the Fallen

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Installation Management Command) — The U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) has implemented a program to ensure Family members of Fallen Soldiers have easier access to Army installations.

The latest aspect of the program introduced special reserved parking places for Gold Star Family members at various locations on Army installations.

PHOTO for Families of Fallen story
A view of a Families of the Fallen parking sign at McCoy's. Photo by Rob Schuette

At Fort McCoy, a specially marked parking place has been designated at the Commissary, building 1537; the Exchange, building 1538; and McCoy's, building 1571.

The program also includes Army installations issuing a standardized Gold Star Installation Access Card to parents and siblings of deceased active-duty Soldiers to allow unescorted access to the installation, so they are able to receive services and support.

"Surviving parents, siblings and others who do not already have a military or Family member ID have told us that one of their biggest frustrations is getting onto an installation to attend Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) support groups, attend events, visit memorials and visit with other survivors," said Hal Snyder, chief, Wounded and Fallen Support Services, G-9 Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs, Headquarters, IMCOM.

This issue was raised to the Department of the Army level through the Army Family Action Plan program, which provides a grassroots forum for members of the Army community to raise quality-of-life concerns.

The Gold Star Installation Access Card was created in response to this feedback after reaching the highest levels of Army leadership, he said.

"Senior Army leadership was listening, and we are pleased to be able to continue to honor the promise that Survivors remain part of the Army Family for as long as they desire," said Snyder.

In addition to providing access to all Army installations, the new identification card also serves as a small way of paying tribute to these Family members.

"This card allows Survivors to have a transportable method to not only gain installation access, but it provides acknowledgement that they are Army survivors, which is very important because of the sacrifices they have made," said Christine Carruthers, SOS region specialist, G-9 Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Programs, Headquarters, IMCOM.

Carruthers said it is important for Survivors to have easy access to an installation because many of them are not familiar with how the Army works.

"In many cases, those individuals have no knowledge of the Army lifestyle and culture, so having ease of access is very helpful to them and it means a lot to them to be able to receive the services and support from the Army," Carruthers said.

Many installations already were assisting and recognizing Gold Star Family members with post decals and some even were providing identification cards, but the new installation access card program standardizes these efforts across all Army installations.

The HQ IMCOM SOS was one of the lead proponents assigned to make the Gold Star Installation Access Card a reality. Army SOS was established in 2008 as the long-term solution in the causality assistance continuum of care.

The program provides services that address the financial, emotional, educational, health and Family issues that may arise following the death of a Soldier while continuously linking Survivors to their Army Family for as long as they desire.

"The grief journey is unique to every Survivor and is experienced in its own way and time," said Carruthers. "Our program is there to assist them through their individual journey and make sure they receive all the services, support and benefits (to which) they are entitled. For survivors who are not familiar with the Army system, having somebody already connected and knowledgeable about the agencies and resources available to them helps survivors navigate through that much easier."

Rob Stapel, Fort McCoy chief of police, said SOS Family members can come to the Main Gate and tell the police officers their intentions.

Personnel entering Fort McCoy will need to have photo identification, such as a driver's license, and any other documentation that substantiates they are a Survivor Family member with intentions to enroll in the SOS program.

The Survivor Family member will be directed to the SOS coordinator to complete the Survivor Family application. The SOS coordinator will validate the Survivor Family application through the Defense Casualty Information Processing System.

After the application is approved, the Survivor Family member will be sent to the Police Department (Public Safety Center), building 1681, where they will complete a one-page document, and the decal necessary to park in the designated SOS parking spaces will be issued.

If Survivor Family members desire a free RAPID Installation Access Card (IAC), they will be escorted to the Visitor Control Center. Stapel said the Survivor Family members qualify for a free RAPID IAC from the RAPIDGATE kiosk, he said.

"The card will allow them to get on any installation that has the RAPIDGATE system," Stapel said. "We wanted to do something special for these SOS Family members and this will help make it easier for them to get onto installations and receive the services they are authorized to receive as a Survivor Family member."

Liane Haun, chief of the Master Planning Division for the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works (DPW), said the SOS designated parking place program was implemented through IMCOM Operations Order 13-098.

The DPW Sign Shop made the signs, under guidance from the SOS at Fort McCoy, to mark the parking places, Haun said.

Becky Wapp Sawyer, director of Fort McCoy Army Community Service (ACS), which administers the SOS, said the program demonstrates the Army's commitment to Families of the Fallen.

SOS is a holistic and multi-agency approach to delivering services to survivors by providing services at the garrison and communities closest to where Families live, she said. SOS allows the Army to better identify the needs of others touched by the loss of a Soldier.

In addition to SOS services, Family members of Fallen servicemembers also have access to a benefits coordinator, financial counseling and support coordinators at Fort McCoy, she said.

SOS improves responsiveness and streamlines the assistance process for Families, Sawyer said.

Support personnel are provided to expand and improve services to survivors in the both the short- and long term.

Assistance can range from providing information about available benefits, to financial assistance and estate and long-term planning to ensure survivors receive necessary services.

IMCOM is dedicated to delivering on the promise of the Army Family Covenant by providing support to surviving Families for as long as they desire, according to the Operations Order.

For more information about the SOS program at Fort McCoy, call ACS at 608-388-3505.