MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Losing a loved one is difficult for any family to experience. That is why the U.S. military has programs in place to ensure that the families of fallen service members are cared for in their time of need. One of these programs is Gold Star Families.
Gold Star Families exist for all branches of the military to offer guidance and counseling to any immediate family members affected by the loss of a service member.
However, unlike most branches, the Air Force defines a Gold Star family as a family whose service member passed away while in an area of operation during conflict.
On May 15 of this year, the Air Force began offering Gold Star families access to Air Force bases around the country. This new development allows Gold Star families to enter an installation without the need of an escort.
“The card allows family members to access a base whenever they want, especially when a memorial service for their fallen family member is taking place,” said Angie Fields, a community readiness consultant assigned to the 6th Force Support Squadron. “For example, family members who wish to visit 1st. Lt. Joseph Helton’s memorial here will not require an ID cardholder to escort them.”
Although Gold Star families cannot purchase items at a Base Exchange, commissary or visit medical facilities, they can attend memorial services and grievance counseling on base. Many of these services are offered through the Air Force Families Forever program located in Airman and Family Readiness Centers.
“The Air Force Family Forever program applies to any family member who has lost a loved one serving in the Air Force, no matter where they were serving,” said Jennifer Ramos, a community readiness consultant assigned to the 6th FSS. “Gold Star families can receive the same care with the program as well.”
Fields also explained that the Gold Star ID is especially useful for children who reach the age of 18, which is when their dependent ID card expires.
“The process of getting the ID card takes little effort for the family, it’s primarily done through the AFRC,” said Fields. “We vet the family, and send their information to the Visitor’s Center to allow the family to receive the card before entering the base.”
Although each branch has a different take on the Gold Star Family program, one aspect remains the same – remembering the families who sacrificed a loved one for their country.
“It’s sad whenever a new family joins the program, and it’s important for them to receive our support and to talk to other families in their situation,” said Fields. “Whether it’s Gold Star Mothers or Gold Star Families, the AFRC is always available to ease the pain for those left behind.”
For more information about the program, please contact the MacDill Airmen and Family Readiness Center at 813-828-0145.