Zach Hargrove always had stories. Whether they were about his time in Iraq or Fort Carson, Colo., he could always keep an audience entertained.
To Zach, life was funny, Sansi Hargrove said of her son.
"And he always looked for what was hilarious."
After a battle with mental health illness, Staff Sgt. Zachary Hargrove took his own life in May 2012 while serving in Afghanistan with a 1st Infantry Division unit. From daily life in Wichita where Zach grew up, played soccer and ran track and field, to visits to the Fort Riley area where Zach bought a house and fished, Sansi's thoughts are never too far from her son.
She thought about what Zach would have said about her riding a horse down the post's Huebner Road Oct. 26 and laughter outshined the tears in her eyes.
"He'd have a story to tell about it," she said. "He'd spin it pretty good."
Sansi was just one of the Gold Star Family members who spent Oct. 26 at Fort Riley on horseback or in a wagon behind two mules. The Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard hosted a ride through Main Post.
Fort Riley's Survivor Outreach Services hosts activities for Gold Star Families throughout the year as a way to come together and stay connected because they are "still part of the Army Family," said Christina Gary, SOS.
The Fort Riley SOS works with Families in Kansas, including 11 counties in the Fort Leavenworth area, and Nebraska, Gary said. That also includes out-of-state Families of fallen "Big Red One" Soldiers who visit the area for events like memorial dedications.
Events like the CGMCG ride are important because they give Families pleasant experiences that focus on the positive while connecting them to the post, Gary said.
"Everyday, our Families have to live with the memory of losing their Soldier," Gary said.
Horses are therapeutic, said 1st Sgt. Brandon McGuire, CGMCG senior noncommissioned officer.
"Even if we can give the Families just two hours of peace where their minds are clear, then we feel it's something that will help them move forward with, undoubtedly, one of the hardest things they've ever had to deal with," McGuire added.
Fort Riley's SOS works with several Families who want to participate in more than activities that revolve around their grief, Gary said.
"These types of events also help Soldiers," she said. "At one time in every Soldier's career, they experience a loss. It's a healing process for everyone involved."
All of the Soldiers assigned to the CGMCG have deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan and been affected by the loss of a brother or sister in arms, McGuire said.
"For us, it's about giving back to the Families who gave so much," McGuire said.
It is the community's responsibility to continue to care for the Families of fallen Soldiers, Gary said.
"Everyone, as a whole, is affected by the lives that are lost," she added.
It has taken a year and half for Sansi to get to the point she remembers Zach as he was before stress and mental illness changed him. Time and interactions with others who have experienced a loss like her Family's have helped her remember the clown, the storyteller and the observant son who was fond of saying, "Will you look at that!"
"We're not sad so much anymore," Sansi said. "We just miss him. We miss him terribly."