Kentucky, Second Lady honor fallen Service members at survivors event

Story by Spc. Brandy Mort, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, speaks with family members of fallen Service members at the Survivors’ Day at the Races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 3, 2013. The event coordinated by Kentucky’s Survivors’ Outreach Services brought together more than 600 friends and family members for a special day at the track, all sponsored by Humana. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Gen. Frank J Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Kentucky’s Adj. Gen., Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini and other general officers joined more than 600 friends and family members of fallen Service members during the 4th annual Survivor’s Day at the Races Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Annually, Kentucky’s Survivor Outreach Services, gather for the event to honor surviving family members of Service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.

“This event gives survivors the opportunity to interact with other survivors,” said Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, adjutant general for the Ohio National Guard “It helps family members by hearing similar stories and know that they are not alone.”

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Kentucky’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini presents a framed quilt to Dr. Jill Biden, wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, during the Survivors’ Day at the Races event at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 3, 2013. Biden, also a military mother, spoke to the crowd complimenting them on their resilience. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

During the event, the survivors participated in different events such as face painting and craft projects provided by the Kentucky National Guard’s Family Programs. Survivors were also treated to a lunch and were able to watch the races from Millionaire’s Row, all provided by Humana Military Healthcare Services and Churchill Downs. The highlight of the day was a race named in honor of  Survivors’ Outreach Services.

“It’s an overwhelming experience to see their faces when they see the effort we put forth in order to show their not left behind,” said Linda Jones, Child and Youth Programs Coordinator and a Survivor of her son, Sgt. 1st Class Charles Jason Jones.

When the Second Lady heard of the event she got in touch with Gen. Grass and asked what she could do in order to help National Guard families. Biden is a mother of two Service members. One of her sons a member of the Deleware National Guard and the other is an officer in the U.S. Navy.

“After the inauguration, Michelle (Obama) and I both agreed that we needed to draw attention to our military and military families,” said Biden, “We pledged our complete support to the programs that benefit all Service members and their families.”

Biden was in awe with all the stories of family members taking positive strides after a tragedy.

“I am the Second Lady, but first and foremost I am a National Guard mother,” said Biden, “I know what it’s like to be away from my sons and I can only imagine how you feel. I am inspired by everyone turning grief into something positive.”

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Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, spends time with children and family members of fallen Service members during the Survivors’ Day at the Races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 3, 2013. Biden was the guest of honor at the 4th annual event held by the Kentucky Survivors’ Outreach Services. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

While this event remembers those who have fallen and the families left behind, it was also a chance to support families of all Service members.

“The last warrior ethos is: I will never leave a fallen comrade,” said Grass, “Honoring those today shows we will never forget those who have served, are serving and those who will serve.”

Grass and Tonini both made their way around the bustling room with Biden, speaking with all who had words and stories to share.

“The smiles I see today are very powerful and meaningful,” said Tonini. “As we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us, we celebrate their memories with family and friends here today. I am honored to be with everyone on this wonderful Sunday afternoon.”

[Note: All photos can be viewed at the Kentucky National Guard’s flickr page, or click on each link below.

SURVIVORS DAY PHOTOS, SET ONE

SURVIVORS DAY PHOTOS, SET TWO

SURVIVORS DAY PHOTOS, SET THREE

Click here for more information about Survivors’ Outreach Services.