Riverboat ride honors Gold Star Families

By Olivia Burton, Kentucky National Guard Family Programs

Country music singer and Army Veteran Rockie Lynne entertains Gold Star families during the fourth Survivors Outreach Services’ Riverboat Ride on the Ohio, June 11, 2017. More than 500 family members attended the event, sponsored for the fourth year by B&B Riverboats. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

NEWPORT, Ky. — For the fourth year in a row, hundreds of surviving family members of fallen U.S. Service members gathered on the banks of the Ohio River for fellowship and healing, June 11. The event sponsored by Northern Kentucky’s B&B Riverboats and organized by Survivors Outreach Services (SOS) is among the largest events of its kind.

More than 500 family members from 12 states attended the event which was facilitated by the Kentucky National Guard and regional SOS coordinators.

“I have been a Survivor Outreach Coordinator for several years and I’ve never seen anything like this National Event,” said Melissa McKensie, Georgia’s SOS Coordinator. “We have several families that have started attending annually. This year we have roughly 50 attendees from our state, so many that we decided to rent a bus. It’s amazing to see the support of our families come full circle so they’re able to enjoy a day together remembering their loved ones.”

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In addition to the cruise, families were treated to a meal, activities for children and live entertainment from country music singer, Rockie Lynne.

Lynne, an Army Veteran and founder of Tribute to the Troops, wrapped up a show at midnight in North Carolina the night before the Riverboat Ride and drove through the night to perform for the families.

“We are one team and this is one fight. One of my songs, Proud to Be a Solider, encompasses this day and what it stands for. It says, ‘I wear this uniform and stair into the eye of the storm. I’m part of a team that’s bigger than me.’ These families are the rockets’ red glare, standing in place for those we have lost. We are not alone, we are all in this fight together.”

Terri Bernstein, Captain of the B&B Riverboats, is the widow of Staff Sgt. Nicholas R. Carnes, a Kentucky Guardsman who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.   Carnes was a Ludlow, Kentucky, native and also served as a riverboat captain.

Bernstein was presented with a Honor & Remember flag by the Kentucky Chapter of Gold Star Mothers which was immediately hoisted into the breeze above the riverboat.

“In 2007 I lost my husband, Survivor Outreach Coordinators David Orange and Mark Grant had invited me to several amazing events,” she recalled. “I decided I wanted to do something using this great facility I’ve been blessed with, B&B Riverboats. I have loved giving back to families that have experienced the same things I have. It’s so nice to have to have everyone together. The pain we have all experienced will never go away, but I believe this day serves to make us all feel a little better.”

While the SOS coordinators do most the work, Kentucky Guardsmen assist in a variety of ways to ensure the event is successful. Chief Warrant Officer Tommy Maness said the credit goes to the families who the event is all about.

“What a privilege it has been to be a part of this event,” he said. “I am so grateful the immense support and love from the community. This is my first SOS Riverboat Ride since coming on as the Director of Family Programs. I am encouraged by the care that surrounds our families and look forward to our continued efforts as we give back to those that have lost so much.”

Local and regional SOS coordinators also work together on what is touted as the largest SOS event of its kind in the country, Survivors Day at the Races, which is scheduled to take place again this fall for the eighth year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.