Gold Star members instill resilience
By 2nd Lieutenant Kaitlyn Danner, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 10, 2019
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- The Air Force has a history of time-honored traditions associated with honoring fallen members. McConnell is continuing this legacy by working with local Gold Star family members to connect them to squadrons as part of the base family.
Gold Star is a term associated with individuals who have lost a family member during active duty service.
“As Gold Star families, we are trying to put forward that it’s not the death that matters, but the lives that they lived,” said Denise Lange, a local Gold Star mother who is active in both the Gold Star community and at McConnell AFB. “We celebrate the life that was offered.”
To Lange and other Gold Star members, the celebration of their loved ones lives is not only a healing process but a way to stay involved with the military. The Air Force and other branches have the reputation of units being as close as family and, after such a loss, Gold Star members can feel a strong connection to this extended family.
Aside from connecting with base events and leadership at McConnell, local Gold Star members have integrated with the 344th Air Refueling Squadron as part of their military family. “I don’t ever remember seeing a squadron that was so together,” said Lange, referring to the 344th ARS.
The relationship between these Gold Star members and the 344th is a mutually meaningful relationship.
“I want to bring the potato salad, I want to be involved,” said Lange, recalling about her recent contributions to the 344ths events. Lange also said that it is important for Gold Star members to feel like they’re a part of McConnell and not just honored guests.
“They’re part of the family in the way any other member would be,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Spurlock, the 344th ARS Commander. “[Gold Star members] help us to think about what’s really important.”
Spurlock also noted that the presence of the Gold Star mothers in the squadron presents a unique relationship and sense of resilience. Members of the 344th ARS have an opportunity to talk to individuals that personify resilience, a person that members can turn to when they feel like no one will understand what they’re going through.
“They embody the sense of belonging to me and my squadron. They represent the ‘why we do this’ and those who have come before us. Not as a statue, but a real and tangible way,” said Spurlock. “It keeps our squadron thinking outside themselves — taking us into our community family and our past sacrifices already made.”
Across the Department of Defense, there are numerous chapters for Gold Star members. There are three chapters in Kansas, two of which are in close proximity to McConnell.
Lange explained that many Gold Star members reach out not to be involved with an organization, but for support and to have a life after their traumatic experience. Connecting with the Airmen of McConnell is one way that they can experience a new life.
The relationship between McConnell and the local Gold Star members is a developing partnership, with room to grow across events and squadrons on base. “It’s going to be beautiful in the end,” Lange said about this relationship. “It’s going to take off and it’s going to be awesome.”