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A Gold Star Christmas

Decorated tree honors fallen heroes at JBLM

Gold Star Family members came together to honor their loved ones during a Fallen Heroes Memorial Tree Decorating event at JBLM. Photo credit: Pfc. Kourtney Nunnery

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - "Don't ever forget them, and don't ever let their stories die."

Damien Snyder is a Gold Star Family member. Snyder lost his sister, Sgt. Devin A. Snyder, while she was serving in Afghanistan in June 2011.

"The last time I saw my sister alive was around Christmas time," said Snyder. "So, Christmas can be really rough."

Since his sister's passing, Snyder has been striving to keep her presence alive in the family by ensuring her nieces and nephews, who never met their aunt, know her story and practice family traditions around the holidays. He, and his family, came to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Dec. 10, to attend a Fallen Heroes Memorial Tree decorating event at Waller Hall.

"The holiday season can be difficult for Gold Star Families," said Brig. Gen. William Ryan, America's First Corps deputy commanding general. "Often times, holiday family traditions stop or feel incomplete. This event offers an opportunity for families to create a tradition to honor the memory of their service members."

The tree decorating event, hosted by JBLM's Survivor Outreach Services, also provided families, like the Snyders, the opportunity to connect and share in communion during the holiday season. Gold Star Families decorated and displayed personalized ornaments, together, commemorating the memory of their loved ones who gave their lives for this country.

"Getting together for events like this, you realize you're not the only person in the world, and you have people who will go out of their way to help you," said Snyder.

Col. Phil Lamb, JBLM garrison commander, said events like this also gives Gold Star Families the opportunity to maintain a connection with the organizations and installations where their loved ones once served, and that current-serving soldiers can help keep their fallen comrades' memories alive.

"This day is all about celebrating our profession and those who made a sacrifice for our profession," said Lamb. "It's critical that we maintain this connection with these family members who sacrificed so much and are so important to the community of JBLM."

Lamb is a Gold Star Family Member himself. He is adamant that JBLM maintains a strong relationship with Gold Star Families.

"The strength of families is the strength of our service members, both active duty and retirees, and that's what makes us Army strong," Lamb said.

Signs of strength and resilience resonated throughout the event. Dan Harris watched as his granddaughter, Emelie, proudly displayed an ornament in memory of her father.

"She remembers the first time she came to one of these events and made an ornament, and she looks forward to coming back and finding it on the table and putting it on the tree," said Harris, who lost his son Benjamin, June 9, 2016.

"We spend as much time as possible with our son's daughter, who was born after he passed away," Harris said. "This is always a bittersweet because it's a joy to be around her; it's bittersweet because you always think about how much Ben would have been an excellent father and he would be so proud of his daughter."

As part of the Army's Casualty Continuum of Care, JBLM Survivor Outreach Services provides long-term support to surviving families of fallen soldiers, with the goal of reassuring survivors that they remain valued members of the Army family.

Gold Star Family members have sacrificed more than anyone," said Ryan, "and we will always be indebted to them as they are the resilient legacies of their service member's service and sacrifice to our nation. America's First Corps is honored to maintain connections with Gold Star Families; they give us strength because of the tremendous strength that they have."

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