Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Stewart hosted its fifth annual candlelight vigil Friday at the main post chapel. The event recognizes the spouses and family members of service members who died while serving their country.
“It’s very important and the fact (is) that we have a lot of families who really, really need this,” said Cheryl Sowell, the program manager for Survivor Outreach Services. “They all want this candlelight vigil, so we try to make that happen.”
Sowell believes that this is part of the healing process.
“They feel a comfort with people who know exactly what they feel because they know loss and they know pain of loss,” she said. “And so by being around other survivors, especially mothers and wives, it makes them feel better.”
Reagan Gibbs lost her husband, Spc. Matthew Gibbs, of Charlie Company, 648th Engineer Battalion, in a suicide bombing in Baghdad in 2005.
“He was very tall, very big. They called him ‘Big Country.’ His favorite meal was pork chops, of course,” Gibbs said, describing her late husband. “He really liked being at home with his family, his friends. … We have two girls Ariana and Arissa, 15 and 13 (years old).”
It wasn’t until the death of her fiancé in 2009 that she became more active in the survivor-outreach events.
“The more things that I go to, the easier it is for me and for our family,” Gibbs said.
These families touched by tragedy have a bond that goes deeper than words can express and only experience can validate.
“A lot of people will come up and they’ll say, ‘We know exactly how you feel,’ and sometimes in the back of your mind you’re like, ‘No, you really don’t’,” Gibbs said. “But these families, they do. They genuinely do because they’ve had similar experiences or circumstances.
“They definitely relate to everything,” she continued. “And grief is not on a timeline, and they definitely understand that. Even though it’s been almost 10 years — and five years — for me, the timeframe doesn’t matter. They let you do what you need to do, how you need to do it, and they’re there to support you.”
During the ceremony, family members who have lost a loved one came to the front of the chapel where a large candle had been lit. Brig. Gen. James Blackburn Jr., Task Force Marne Commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Hummel lit their candles from the flame and distributed it to family members. The audience was also able to light a candle of their own. They then held a moment of silence for the fallen.
After the ceremony, they proceeded outside where white balloons bearing words such as “Hope,” “Peace,” and “Happy,” were waiting to be released. Someone read the poem “Memories,” which talks about remembering those who are gone as if there were still near.
Gold Star Mother Linda Lamie, whose son Sgt. Gene Lamie who was with 3rdBattalion, 7thInfantry Regiment, 2ndBrigade Combat Team when he was killed, cut the string on the balloons, and they quickly flew away into the sky.