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    Gold Star families given all-star send off

    5-1 CAV gives Gold Star family send off

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Mylinda Durousseau | Lt. Col. James Hayes, 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment commander (far right), and...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Mylinda Durousseau 

    1st Brigade, 11th Airborne Division

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The Fairbanks International Airport is a fairly empty, quite place at 11 p.m. on a typical Wednesday night, but Dec. 10 wasn’t a typical night for two Fairbanks families and the more than 20 Soldiers from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, who ventured out through the snow and the cold to give them a warm send off.

    For Susan Hernandez and Maria Sutherland and their children this annual late-night trip to the airport began in 2006 as they left Fairbanks to take part in the first Snowball Express, a charity-sponsored weekend get away for 2,000 kids and their surviving parents. The event serves families that have lost parents to war.

    “It was very, very hard; it was emotional. My kids were little and I think it was hard for them too,” Susan recalled of that first trip.

    Susan is the widow of Sgt. Irving Hernandez Jr. who was killed by small arms fire while deployed with 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom July 12, 2006. After the deployment, the unit was deactivated and 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment took its place in 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright. Each year when Susan and her two children go to Snowball Express, 1-5 Infantry Soldiers are there to see them off.

    “It’s important that we keep that relationship with [the families]. No one knows better what they have been through,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Hough, 1-5 Infantry commander. “If not us, then who?”

    Lt. Col. James Hayes, 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment commander, said there was no hesitation when Survivor Outreach Services asked if his unit could be there to see Maria and her son off.

    “It was an honor for us to go out there to support her,” Hayes said.

    Maria is the widow of Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Sutherland who was deployed with 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when he was killed in a vehicle roll-over Nov. 12, 2005. After returning from the deployment the squadron was reflagged and moved from Fort Wainwright to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. At the same time 5-1 CAV took their place in 1st SBCT.

    “It’s a wonderful program. Just knowing he’s going there he gets really excited,” Maria said when talking about what Snowball Express has done for her and her youngest son. “When we’re there we don’t have to explain our reasons and our tears.”

    After her husband’s death Maria and her sons stayed in Alaska. Her oldest son joined the Army but returned to Fairbanks after his first enlistment.

    “We’ve been here 12 years now, this is home,” Maria said.

    Hayes said it is important to keep a relationship with all their Gold Star families but especially those who are a part of the local community.

    “I think that’s part of our duty,” Hayes said.

    Throughout the years both 1-5 Infantry and 5-1 Cavalry will see commanders come and go but Hough and Hayes have said the units are dedicated to being there for these families, even if there is no longer in Alaska.

    “It is going to be hard to leave the unit,” Susan said after revealing plans to move out of Alaska as her daughter prepares to start college. “Each year when someone new comes in [to take over the unit] they take us under their wing.”

    The Snowball Express program says it recognizes many members of the military have made the ultimate sacrifice and their children will never be reunited with their dad or mom. Snowball Express vows to never forget these military heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice or the children of those fallen heroes.



    Date Taken: 12.11.2014
    Date Posted: 12.23.2014 14:34
    Story ID: 151013
    Location: FAIRBANKS, AK, US 

    Web Views: 136
    Downloads: 2