USA — Gold Star Mother Offers Inspiration, Hope

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Just sev­en months after her 23-year-old son was killed in a heli­copter crash in Iraq, and with three months left before her hus­band returns from his deploy­ment to Afghanistan, Sheila Pat­ton isn’t fac­ing the hol­i­days feel­ing sor­ry for her­self.

Gold Star families
Sheila Pat­ton, here with her son, Army Staff Sgt. James R. “Jim­my” Pat­ton, who was killed April 18, 2010, dur­ing a heli­copter crash in Iraq, said she has come to peace with his loss as she reach­es out to com­fort oth­er Gold Star fam­i­lies.
Cour­tesy pho­to
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Instead, she’s found a call­ing: help­ing to bring inspi­ra­tion and hope to fam­i­lies of fall­en sol­diers at this post that’s suf­fered a heavy toll in com­bat loss­es since the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror attacks. 

Pat­ton, the wife of Army Com­mand Sgt. Major Gre­go­ry Pat­ton, com­mand sergeant major for the 101st Air­borne Division’s 3rd Brigade Com­bat Team, feels the pain of her son’s death as if it had hap­pened yesterday. 

Army Staff Sgt. James R. “Jim­my” Pat­ton, died April 18 dur­ing a com­bat mis­sion in Tikrit, Iraq. The 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment sol­dier, based at Fort Ben­ning, Ga., was serv­ing his sev­enth over­seas deploy­ment since 9/11 that had includ­ed two pre­vi­ous tours to Iraq and four deploy­ments to Afghanistan. 

His moth­er learned of his death when a casu­al­ty assis­tance offi­cer drove up to her in-laws’ home in Indi­ana while she was vis­it­ing to cel­e­brate her father’s birth­day. Pat­ton had every rea­son to feel alone at the time. Her chil­dren were at home near Fort Camp­bell and her daugh­ter-in-law was with fam­i­ly in her native Ecuador, still unaware of Jimmy’s death. Her hus­band, who deployed to Afghanistan just two months ear­li­er, had flown to Iraq to accom­pa­ny his son’s body to Dover Air Force Base, Del. Yet from the moment the noti­fi­ca­tion offi­cials deliv­ered the heart-wrench­ing news, Pat­ton said, she felt embraced by the Fort Camp­bell com­mu­ni­ty. It con­tin­ued as the fam­i­ly made plans to lay Jim­my to rest at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, and after the senior Pat­ton left just a week after the funer­al to rejoin his fel­low “Rakkasan Bat­tal­ion” sol­diers in Afghanistan’s Khost province. “The sup­port I have been giv­en through the Fort Camp­bell com­mu­ni­ty has been absolute­ly amaz­ing,” she said. “They have been phe­nom­e­nal in ral­ly­ing to sup­port my fam­i­ly. It’s been an absolute­ly heart-warm­ing experience.” 

Pat­ton said she cries for her son every day and still feels the dev­as­ta­tion of his loss. But she has also devel­oped a sense of peace about his death that’s helped her cope and begin heal­ing. “I am a proud mom­ma of a sol­dier who died fight­ing for his coun­try and doing what he loved doing,” she said. “If he had to die before us that is the only way we could ever have accept­ed his death: to smile and be proud and hon­ored that God thought enough of my son to make him a hero.” 

Pat­ton said she com­forts her­self “know­ing God took my son for a big­ger mis­sion, because his mis­sion on Earth was com­plete.” Mean­while, Pat­ton has found a new mis­sion as well: reach­ing out to oth­er fam­i­lies strug­gling with their own loss­es as senior advi­sor to Fort Campbell’s Sur­vivor Out­reach Ser­vices pro­gram. The pro­gram is part of the Army’s effort to help and stay con­nect­ed with fam­i­lies of the fallen. 

As a Gold Star Moth­er and wife of a sol­dier serv­ing in harm’s way, Pat­ton rec­og­nizes she’s in a unique posi­tion to com­fort fam­i­lies of the fall­en. “I have been where they are, and I can share what they are feel­ing because I am going through what they are going through, almost simul­ta­ne­ous­ly,” she said. Pat­ton shared her sto­ry as keynote speak­er at a recent can­dle­light vig­il hon­or­ing Fort Campbell’s fall­en. As the crowd began to dis­perse, one moth­er who was hav­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult time deal­ing with her own son’s com­bat death approached Pat­ton. “You have giv­en me hope,” she told Pat­ton. “I just want you to know that.” 

Pat­ton said she’s not quite sure where she gets the strength to car­ry out what she’s come to see as a per­son­al call­ing. “I guess God and Jim­my have giv­en me the strength to do this,” she said. “Jim­my has a big­ger mis­sion in heav­en, and I think this is my mis­sion on Earth, to be able to share his sto­ry and offer hope to oth­er fam­i­lies. “If I can give one per­son hope that they can look at the loss of their sol­dier in a dif­fer­ent light,” she added, “then that is one per­son I have helped.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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