WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE --
Those words are the theme of a new tribute video released by the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE), on Sept. 20, 2018.
Family photos, frozen moments in time, share vignettes of the life of fallen Airmen – and the impact their deaths had on those they left behind, known as Air Force Gold Star Families.
The term originates from the distinctive U.S. service flags, starting in World War I when American families displayed white flags with a red border and a star in the center for each member serving the military. A blue star signifies a deployed service member in uniform. The star was changed to gold to commemorate a fallen loved one who never returned.
The video is narrated by Linda Ambard, the 509th Bomb Wing violence prevention integrator at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, and a Gold Star Spouse.
A civilian member of Team Whiteman, Ambard’s wing leadership encouraged her to contribute her voice to the project to represent fellow Gold Star families. She was selected from a pool of voice auditions.
“I didn’t want to be part of something that simply shared what the Gold Star is about, because,” Ambard said, “it is so much more than a title. This video tells the story of the huge impact a loss has on our families. That, to me, was very important.”
Making the video
Narrating the four-minute video wasn’t easy for Ambard, who couldn’t read the script while looking at the faces and smiles in the pictures, especially because some of the pictures in the video are hers. Ambard’s husband Phil, a U.S. Air Force major, was killed in 2011 when an Afghan pilot opened fire on U.S. Airmen in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The words are spot on,” Ambard said. “The script was personal, because those are the words that any widow relates to. The power of the video is that we recognize that the loss was more than a military member: This was your husband, your father, your child.”
The images were compiled by the PACE Heritage Today program, which reinforces the core values, inspires, and promotes critical thinking and dialogue.
“The interview process (with video participants) was an integral portion to creating the video,” said Christa L. D’Andrea, Heritage Today Program manager at Joint Base San-Antonio-Randolph, Texas. “We had conference calls and interviews with survivors to find out what is most important to them and how they experienced the process. The words in the script came directly from these interviews. They are a representation of the voices of real survivors.”
While not every story could be included, D’Andrea said that the shared experience of Gold Star families tells a story of resilience, love and pride.
“We wanted Airmen to be reminded of the ultimate sacrifices made by Gold Star families in their communities,” D’Andrea said. “We encourage commanders to embrace Gold Star families as members of the Air Force family – to reach out, bring them into the fold. These Airmen left a legacy we don’t want to forget.”
Part of the Family
Since her husband’s death 7 years ago, Ambard has advocated for families of the fallen, addressed Congress and accepted invitations to the White House for her outreach. Along with fellow Gold Star families, she has also contributed to a new initiative by top Air Force leaders to improve care for widows and widowers of Airmen called the Air Force Families Forever program.
“The Air Force means everything to me,” said Linda, whose four of five children currently serve in the military, adding she joined the Whiteman wing staff “because I could not lose my Air Force family at the same time I lost my husband.”
There are more than 2,900 Air Force Gold Star family. In the Air Force, the program started out as the “Gold Star Wives” program, which didn’t offer tangible benefits.
After soliciting feedback, including Ambard’s, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein requested in April 2017 additional lifelong support for Gold Star families.
“The families of our fallen heroes deserve our unwavering support every day,” Goldfein said via social media. “Our Gold Star families are our responsibility and caring for them is our sacred duty.”
Gold Star family members (parents, adult children and siblings) now can receive an ID card for access to Air Force bases in the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii.
This base access connects families to the Air Force community closest to them by enabling unescorted access to gravesides and memorial sites. It also allows family members access to the installation to meet with their Airman & Family Readiness Center program specialist, attend on-base chapel services, visit military friends and attend unit events.
“It’s about finding your way through darkness,” Ambard said. “It’s for the spouses who may not know what to do next. It’s about being more than a last name and staying connected to the military family. If you are just starting this journey it can be very, very lonely. The Air Force wants, and is trying, to do better. There are things we don’t like to think about and many families do not know about available resources. The video is the first step in ensuring people understand what the program is truly about. It’s about where we take it now.”
Ambard continues to work with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional support and healing to anyone grieving the death of a military loved one. The TAPS staff provides military survivor seminars, Good Grief Camps for young survivors and resources relating to grief and trauma.
As a peer mentor, athlete and author, she also donates all of her proceeds from her book, “Courageously Alive—A Walk Through Military Loss,” to the program.
Despite bitter-sweet memories, the day of the video release wasn’t only about loss, Ambard said.
Together with her family, she welcomed to the world her first granddaughter.
On Sept. 30, Whiteman celebrates Gold Star Mother’s Day.
To reach the Air Force Families Forever program, call 866-299-0596, or visit facebook.com/AFFamiliesForeverSupportNetwork.
For immediate counseling and assistance, visit www.taps.org or call the 24-hour helpline at 800-959-2877.
For more information about PACE and the Heritage Today series go to www.airman.af.mil.