- Posted September 23, 2010 by
Fort Lee, Virginia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Salute to troops
Fort Lee officer featured on Gold Star Mother’s Day Poster
By Kimberly Fritz
FORT LEE, Va. – “Celebrity” was never a word Chief Warrant Officer 5 Candis Martin imagined she would use to highlight her 35-year military career. She can now add that to her list of adjectives, however, because she’s currently featured on a Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Gold Star Mother’s Day poster that was distributed Armywide.
Gold Star Mother’s Day is observed annually in the United States on the last Sunday of September. It is a day for people to recognize and honor those who have lost a son or daughter serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Martin’s son, 1st Lt. Thomas M. Martin, died Oct. 14, 2007 in Al Busayifi, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire during combat operations. He was assigned to 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The poster, which features Martin holding framed photos of her son, is one way the Survivor Outreach Services program supports Gold Star families.
“While the poster features a Gold Star Mothers it’s about much more than just moms,” Martin said. “There are Gold Star dads, spouses, siblings and children.”
Martin said one of her hopes for the poster is that it will bring more awareness about what the gold star represents.
“I was talking with one of my coworkers, telling him I was coming down here to do this interview. He’s been in the Army for 24 years, and he’s been around a lot of Soldiers who have been lost,” Martin explained. “He said he truly had no idea what the gold star meant until he came here and met me. People just don’t know what the gold star represents. I think we need educational awareness.”
Martin said people see that Gold Star Lapel Pin on her uniform and want to know how they can get one.
“I tell them they don’t want one of those,” she said. “I do want people to be educated about what the gold star symbolizes though.”
Martin’s mind is always looking for a way to reach out.
“I wear Tom’s bracelet,” Martin said while showing the keepsake that’s hidden beneath her ACU shirt. “It stays very shiny under here. When I was first assigned to Fort Lee, I was at reception and I reached out to a fellow Soldier to shake hands. When my bracelet appeared from underneath my Class A’s, he asked me whose bracelet I wore. I told him my son’s.”
Martin also has a special license plate issued by the Virginia DMV. It includes the gold star and two meaningful phrases – “remember the fallen” and “1NMLLN” (one in a million). She said people often assume she’s referring to herself, with the latter expression, but she encourages them to take a closer look at the type of license plate.
“It’s not about me, but a reminder that my son was one in a million,” she said.
She recently saw another car with the gold star tags and approached the driver.
“I told her I was sorry for her loss and that I was a gold star mother too,” Martin said.
She said gold star families don’t want pity, they want remembrance that their loved one lived and died for something special.
“When you wear the uniform you know how special it is,” she said emotionally.
As a favor to her friend and gold star spouse, Donna Engeman, who is the national SOS program manager for Information Management Command in San Antonio, Texas, Martin agreed to meet with a photography team to shoot some photos.
“I could never be a model, it was uncomfortable primping for the camera,” she said. “Give me a pair of boots and I am happy.”
The photos of Martin were chosen to represent SOS on their outreach for survivors.
“There are so many ways to keep the memory and spirit of fallen Soldiers alive,” Martin said. “Through programs like SOS, people are reaching out.”
SOS debuted on Army installations in May 2009 and provides assistance to the families of deceased Soldiers, whether they have recently passed or died some time ago, said Robyn Fuller, SOS program coordinator.
Fuller met Martin when she arrived at Fort Lee to take a position at the Quartermaster School.
“We offer survivor support and care whether it’s financial, emotional or benefits questions. We take over where the casualty assistance officer leaves off with a family, and we stick with them as long as they desire, we just try to keep them connected to the Army family,” Fuller said.
Fort Lee’s SOS program provides support to the families of the fallen throughout much of Virginia, Fuller said.
Martin is a member of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. and works hard to ensure fallen Soldiers are honored and remembered. The Lost Heroes’ Art Quilt, which features 82 fallen military members, including 1st Lt. Thomas Martin, is currently touring the country. Martin and another gold star mom both play an important role in getting the quilt to as many sites as possible. Stops along the tour have included the Army’s Women Museum and the National Museum of the Marines and will be featured during the Veterans Week Celebration in Branson, Mo.
Someone once told Martin that her son didn’t die for his country, he lived for it.
“He said, ‘If something is not worth dying for, it’s not worth living for,’” she said. “At first I thought it was an odd statement, but the more I thought about it, the more profound it became. That’s what the military is about.”
During the last conversation Martin had with her son while he was on R&R in April 2007, she said she was being the mom.
“I was telling him all the reasons why I hated for him to go back,” she said. “He was seeing things and doing things no mom ever wishes for her son or daughter to witness. The banter kept going back and forth until he said, ‘Mom, it’s what we do,’ referring to those of us who wear the uniform. I got it and he got it too.
“They all do,” she said referring to military members.
The Gold Star Mothers’ Day poster was distributed world-wide to promote the occasion that is Sunday. Martin traced her fingers along the poster pondering why she was chosen and said, “I’m just a mom.”
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