Photo Caption: Fort Campbell Survivor Outreach Services Program Manager Suzy Yates and SOS Financial Counselor Loreta Guzman walk and discuss upcoming renovations in front of the Parrish House. The historic home near Gate 4, which formerly served as the 101st Airborne Division commanding general's quarters, will serve as the SOS program's new location.
July 25, 2014
By Megan Locke Simpson, Fort Campbell Courier
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Sheila Patton remembers driving up to Indiana on a Friday in April four years ago to celebrate her father's birthday. She went with her 16-year-old daughter, Megan, and left her son, Cliff, at home for the night.
The rest of her Family, including now retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Patton, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, and Staff Sgt. James Patton, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were deployed in missions overseas.
As Sheila and Megan sat with their Family celebrating at a restaurant, Cliff called his mother to tell her he had just gotten a ticket. Shortly after, Megan spilled her tea across the table, all while a pit of worry amassed in Sheila's stomach.
It was not until the next morning that Sheila got the news no military spouse or mother ever wants to hear. Her son, James, whom everyone called Jimmy, had been killed instantly in a helicopter accident in Tikrit, Iraq, April 18, 2010. When the Family later pieced together the details, the accident happened right around the time Sheila remembers having a pit in her stomach.
The next day, she probed the 3rd BCT Rear Detachment commander for more information. He and other fellow Rakkasans were part of the casualty notification team that drove to Indiana to inform the Family of Jimmy's death.
"Jimmy died a hero," Sheila recalls him saying.
Greg accompanied his son's body back on the plane to Dover, Del., while Sheila coordinated arrangements on the homefront. Jimmy's wife, Beatriz, and their 18-month-old daughter Cecilia, had to fly back to the States from her native home of Ecuador, and Sheila wanted to make sure everything was in order.
"You got to stay strong," she remembers Greg telling her that morning, as they spoke briefly with thousands of miles in between the seasoned military couple. "You can't break down."
Becoming an advocate
When Jimmy took his last breath, it is as if he breathed a new purpose into Sheila's life. While the spouses of commanders and command sergeants major are known for being involved in the life of their Soldier's unit, especially during deployments, Jimmy's death sparked a greater involvement for Sheila.
Within a month after her son's burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Sheila was back at Fort Campbell, attending casualty assistance officer training and attending Eagle Remembrance Ceremonies, where fallen Soldiers are recognized. It was a hard year for the Rakkasans as a whole, who lost 17 Soldiers while deployed to Afghanistan.
"A month after we lost Jimmy, I was there talking about what worked for my notification," she said. "What to say. What not to say."
It was in these early days of helping others that Sheila said she helped herself through the grieving process and developed a passion for Gold Star Families and those going through similar experiences.
"I think there are people that get in a hole so deep that they can't climb out of it, or it takes forever to climb out of it," she said. "I had told myself early on that I was never going to get like that … Four years later I am not broken."
Home of hope
When a new commanding general's quarters was constructed on post, it meant Maj. Gen. James C. McConville was the final 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell commanding general to reside at the historic Parrish House. According to Cultural Resources Program Manager Ronald Grayson, the white, plantation-style farmhouse built in 1833, visible when entering or exiting Gate 4, has been home to Fort Campbell's commanding generals since 1947. As one of his final decisions, McConville let Survivor Outreach Services know the program could use the home as their new office space and a place for Gold Star Families to gather. The mission of SOS is to help the surviving Family members of fallen service members, also known as Gold Star Families.
"I think that Fort Campbell's SOS program is the model program for the Army," Sheila said. "I say that with as much sincerity as I can say it. From the time that we lost Jimmy until today, anything that I have needed from them, anything that my daughter-in-law has needed from them and other Families that I know, they have assisted in any way possible that they can do it."
The tentative move-in date for SOS to the home located at 101 Screaming Eagle Drive is Oct. 15, said Fort Campbell SOS Program Manager Suzy Yates. A ribbon cutting is also planned for Oct. 31, during Gold Star Family Appreciation Week.
"Those are all tentative, based on if we get the renovations complete in time to move," Yates said. "That's our plan."
Renovations to the home will be minor, as the Parrish House is a recognized as a historic building by the U.S. Army, meaning that any changes and upgrades must go through an approval process. With additions to the house coming in 1850, 1885 and 1950, the property was originally built by owner David Parrish as a two-pen, two-story log cabin, Grayson explained.
Yates is excited for the move; especially to a location she feels will be both comfortable and inviting for Gold Star Families. The SOS program currently works out of an old bank building near the Exchange and the Soldier Readiness Processing facility. The Parrish House will be quieter, and a better place for Families to sit and reflect away from the troubles of everyday life, Yates added.
"Really what the purpose of the house is to me is [to be] a place that's a home away from home for our survivors," she said.
The Hall of Remembrance, which depicts the faces of fallen service members in the SOS building, will be even more prominent at the Parrish House.
"That is a huge focal point of our building," Yates said.
"Really the reason we're here is because of all the service members that are in our Hall of Remembrance. When we move to the new building, that room is really going to be the focal point.
"We are going to be able to move our Hall of Remembrance with us and be able to display it in an area that is central to that facility and give it the honor and the respect that is so truly deserves. That's probably the room I'm most excited to see how it comes together."
After stepping back for a year from many responsibilities, Sheila said she is now back in full force in order to volunteer with two Fort Campbell Survivor Outreach Services projects. The first of Sheila's projects is to help spearhead the outside beautification of the Parrish House, with a memorial garden and handicap-accessible playground for children at the top of the list for the property Sheila refers to as "the home of hope."
"I'm calling that a place for peace," Sheila said, of the memorial garden. "We want to get a gazebo and seasonal flowers, and we're going to have to keep up with the flowers because nobody wants to see deadness. This is all about life -- celebration, hope, peace and inspiration."
In order to accomplish these beautification projects, Sheila is seeking to partner with businesses, community members, Soldiers, Family members and anyone else who is able to help. For more information about getting involved, call Sheila at (931) 627-4958.
"I feel like this is my mission right now," she said. "… Once people realize what we're doing, [hopefully they] are willing to donate their time, their resources, the materials or just their help or their money. However they want to see fit to do it, it's going to come together. It's just going to be beautiful when it's together."
Boots on the ground
The second project Sheila is currently working within the local communities to promote is the boot collection for the SOS program. SOS is collecting boots in all conditions, whether new or unserviceable, from all branches of services and in all colors for use during the program's inaugural Hero and Remembrance Run, Walk or Roll. The 5K event will be held Nov. 1 on post as a way to honor fallen service members during Gold Star Family Appreciation Week.
The event, which was first hosted by the Tripler Fisher House in Hawaii, represents each service member who died on active duty status since 9/11 with a single boot. Each boot will be tagged with the service member's photo and information, allowing for a more personalized feel for the memorial event. With more than 6,000 boots needed, Soldiers, Family members, Veterans and community organizations are encouraged to donate whatever boots they may have available. Empty water bottles, which are being put into each boot for storage purposes, as well as small American flags, are also being accepted.
"A lot of them are thinking [the boots] have to be new for some reason. They don't," Yates explained. "My whole thing is, the older the better because I think it adds to the nostalgia of the event, and it really shows that they were worn. They were worn by a Soldier."
Yates said the boots do not even need to be clean before being dropped off, and even those with holes or rips are acceptable to donate.
Boot donations can be hand delivered to the SOS program's current location at 2703 Michigan Ave., Fort Campbell, Ky., 42223. Donations can also be mailed -- using FedEx or UPS only -- to this address. Quantico Tactical, located on Tiny Town Road, is now serving as a boot donation site in Clarksville. Soldiers can also check with their units to see if there is a collection site within their building.
Donations are being accepted through Oct. 1, and the battalion/squadron with the most boots collected will receive a free day at the Joe Swing Recreational Facility on post, courtesy of Fort Campbell Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
Those attending the U.S. Army Soldier Show performance, which begins at 6 tonight at Wilson Theater, can also bring boots as volunteers will be on-site to collect them.
"Everybody has time to look in their closet to see if they have a pair of boots that their Soldier no longer wears or has an hour out of the day to say a prayer for us," Sheila said. "There are tons of ways to give back."
So far, about 300 boots have been collected and turned in to SOS. The battalion/squadron with the most donations thus far is 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Yates encourages units to not wait until the final deadline to drop off their boots, but to bring them in throughout the donation period.
For more information on boot donation, call SOS at (270) 412-7251 or email FortCampbellSOSBootDrive@yahoo.com.
"What an honor it is that people want to do something to honor our loved ones -- not just one or two or not just from Fort Campbell or from Hawaii or from Fort Benning, but all of them," Sheila said.
"It makes me proud as a Gold Star Mom that people are going to donate their boots and honor Jimmy and his name is going to be there and his photo, and not just Jimmy, but all of his fallen brothers and sisters."