Hero Summit Panel Encourages Support for Military Families
By Erin Wittkop
Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2012 A panel of military family members gathered here yesterday with many of the nation’s most influential journalists, civil servants and decorated service members to discuss the challenges of being a military family member and the ways that American citizens can support them.
Patti Walker, left, wife of retired Army 1st Sgt. Kevin Walker and Wounded Warrior Program advocate on Fort Riley, Kan., talks to ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts during a Hero Summit panel titled, “The Other Side of Sacrifice: Military Families” in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 2012. Other panel members included, from left to right, Bill Norwood, father of Marine Corps Sgt. Byron Norwood, who was killed in action; retired Air Force Maj. Lori Bell, wife of an active duty Air Force airman and founder and president of the National Association of Military Moms and Spouses; Kim Ruocco, widow of Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors national director of postvention programs. DOD photo by Bradley Cantor
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The inaugural Hero Summit, hosted by Newsweek and the Daily Beast, was a two-day theatrical-journalism event designed to bring together American military heroes, civil servants, writers and historians to examine the definition of American heroism and share stories of courage and bravery in the face of extreme adversity.
ABC news correspondent Deborah Roberts moderated the family panel, which included retired Air Force Maj. Lori Bell, wife of an active duty Air Force airman and founder and president of the National Association of Military Moms and Spouses; Bill Norwood, father of Marine Corps Sgt. Byron Norwood, who was killed in action; Kim Ruocco, widow of Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors national director of postvention programs; and Patti Walker, wife of retired Army 1st Sgt. Kevin Walker and Wounded Warrior Program advocate on Fort Riley, Kan.
Each speaker offered insight into the unique challenges faced by military families. Bell noted how hard it can be to keep herself and her family grounded when coping with frequent moves and unexpected deployments.
When her family was given two-weeks’ notice that her husband would deploy to Afghanistan, Bell said, she “wanted to connect with someone, but no one wanted to connect with the commander’s wife.” That experience, she added, inspired her to start an online community for military families that offers support in times of need without worrying about rank or social politics.
Bell is now the founder and president of the National Association of Military Moms and Spouses. Her website offers military families the opportunity to connect and receive mentorship when dealing with the unique challenges associated with a military lifestyle.
Walker also understands the importance of community support for military families. She said that small, everyday actions from community members can make a huge difference in the lives of military families, and she encourages all Americans to spread the word for veteran support.
“When you call your relatives, wherever they are, ask them to embrace the veterans in their community,” she said. “Employ our wounded veterans. Embrace their children. Give a minute of your time. Offer [vets] a thank you. If you have a service you provide, [offer it for free].”
Ruocco and Norwood pointed out that often the best kind of support is compassion, empathy and an ear to listen. Norwood’s son was killed during a rescue mission in Fallujah, Iraq. Ruocco lost her husband to suicide in 2005.
Honoring the lives of their loved ones has been crucial to the healing process for both Norwood and Ruocco. In the wake of his son’s death, Norwood said, he finds comfort by reaching out to Marines who served with his son and mentoring wounded service members in an effort to remind them to “live a strong, wonderful life, and enjoy it.”
Ruocco said her fear that her husband’s death would overshadow his life helped her to realize the emotional needs of other suicide survivors.
"When someone dies by suicide, [survivors] so often focus on the death and how [their loved one] died, and it wipes out everything else,” she said. “I think for suicide survivors, they want to talk about their life and who this person was -- that they had so much to give and [they weren’t] a crazy, bad person.”
Ruocco now works with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors to help family member survivors of military suicide rebuild their lives in the wake of tragedy, and she urges citizens to offer survivors compassion and the opportunity to talk about their loved one’s life as they heal.