Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone is listen.
The inherent risk faced by America’s troops means their families are no strangers to tragedy. And just as the USO is there during the good times, the organization also makes sure it’s there when families lose a loved one.
The USO partners with TAPS—the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors—to host Survivor Seminars and Good Grief Camps that help military family members cope with a death and the overwhelming emotions that come with it.
USO Fort Hood hosted nearly 500 attendees and volunteers at the USO/TAPS Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in July at the Spirit of Fort Hood Warrior and Family Chapel Campus. USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse estimates that her center cultivated between $15,000 and $20,000 in in-kind donations for the event, allowing them to provide expansive breakfast and lunch offerings to the attendees and the Fort Hood-based troops who worked as peer mentors during the two-day program. USO Warrior and Family Care also provided nearly $30,000 in funds for the event.
But their largest contribution may have been lending an ear.
“We made ourselves very available on a personal level to them, being able to listen,” Crouse said. “It’s just about being a very good listener and being able to give a hug to people when they need it. And it’s about being able to remember who that person is year after year so they feel like they’re coming back home.”
The Survivor Seminars provide an opportunity for adult survivors (spouses and parents) to learn about their grief and find positive ways to deal with it. Meanwhile, children from these families participate in Good Grief Camps at the same locations. Their days are filled with fun, educational activities under the guidance of peer mentors, who are servicemen and women who volunteer to help surviving children through the emotions of the camp.
Crouse said the USO’s standing within the military community adds a sense of comfort to the attendees, many of whom have been to multiple camps since Fort Hood started hosting the events in 2010. This comfort can lead to more open lines of communication and even life-changing experiences.
Crouse was especially moved by an attendee she connected with in 2011 who sought her out again upon arriving at Fort Hood this summer. The woman, who’d lost a loved one, brought a letter she’d sent to Crouse that was returned by the post office because of a bad address. When Crouse opened the letter, it contained a photo of the two of them from the 2011 camp. The exchange brought Crouse to tears.
“[These camps are] one of the most meaningful things I’ve done in my career at the USO,” she said.
—Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development