Children of fallen Soldiers participate in ‘boot camp’
Anna, 3, one of three children of Spc. Nicholas C.D. Hensley – a fallen Soldier with Troop B, 4th Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt., 1st HBCT, 1st Inf. Div., completes the low crawl June 13 at Custer Hill Parade Field during the Boot Camp for Heroes obstacle course coordinated by the USAWOA and SOS.
Story by: Pamela Redford
1ST INF. DIV. POST
To honor children of fallen Soldiers, The Mid-American Chapter of the U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association and Survivor Outreach Services, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation hosted a one-of-a-kind experience June 13 at the Custer Hill Parade Field.
A bean bag toss, hay bale jump, inflatable challenge, brick hop, tire run, low crawl and a balance beam comprised the unique obstacle course designed by the USAWOA. Fifty-two children accepted the challenge, 21 of whom were children of fallen Soldiers.
The event was part of Victory Week, the annual weeklong celebration of the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley.
"We wanted to give (the children) the Soldier experience without it being too dangerous," said Warrant Officer 2 Michael Wyderka, 601st Aviation Support Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., and vice president, Mid-American Chapter, USAWOA.
Wyderka said club members representing every "Big Red One" brigade volunteered to help set up and run the obstacle course.
"We hope it's a fun experience to enjoy and start off the summer," he said. "It's also a great way to tell the kids, 'hey, we haven't forgotten you.'"
Children received a photo-holding stuffed bear wearing the Army combat uniform, T-shirts and other gifts to honor the memory of their loved one.
"We are the first installation to have an event of this kind," said Christina Gary, SOS coordinator, DFMWR. "We wanted to give them something fun to do by treating them like a Soldier for a day."
Among the honored guests were the three children of Spc. Nicholas C.D. Hensley – a fallen hero from the Troop B, 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div.
The cavalry scout died June 24, 2011, in Landstuhl, Germany with his Family by his side. Nine days earlier, Hensley had been severely injured when a bomb detonated in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was his fourth deployment.
Hensley earned a Purple Heart, two Army Commendation medals and a Combat Action Badge, among other awards. He received a funeral with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas.
Nearly one year later, in matching red, white and blue summer dresses, his three daughters conquered the balance beam and brought a smile to their grandparent's faces.
Identical twins Nora and Ella, 7 and their little sister Anna, 3, completed the obstacle course as their mother, Gloria and grandparents, John and Terry Hensley and other Family members looked on.
Terry said the girls had a fun time playing and looking at the vehicle display in the parking lot, but they are still a little young to fully grasp the meaning of the event.
"I know they know daddy's gone, but thank god they were young. To get out here and mingle with the other children that have lost such an important figure in their lives too – I think it's good support for them," she said.
Terry and her husband recently awarded a graduate from Prattville High School – the school Hensley went to in Alabama – with a scholarship to Auburn University. The young man also was selected for a Navy ROTC scholarship, she said.
The experiences the Family has had over the last year and the opportunities that have opened up for them to keep his memory going have helped them begin the healing process, she said.
"Even though Nick is gone, he is honoring us every day with things we never would have even heard of or people we would have never met," Terry said. "The Army has been exceptionally outstanding with us and I'm sure it has been that way with every other parent. Never having gone through anything like this before, I couldn't have expected anything more than what they've done. They have taken care of us and offered their help and support. It's just amazing; I really and truly am amazed."
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Carmen Davis, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div. said she personally feels it is important to give back to Families who have lost their loved ones.
"As a nation, we get to come home to our Families and see our kids. (A child survivor's) parent or relative is never coming home. They paid the ultimate price. Survivors are alone with the memory and the appreciation they have for the life that was lost. We just want to say thank you to those Families," she said.