The scene wasn’t what you might expect from a support group at the Desert Lanes Bowling Alley Saturday afternoon. Smiles, laughter and cheers are just some ways to describe the emotions of the vivacious group gathered there.
“Events like this are wonderful “â€ look at these people. They have all had tremendous losses. You cannot understand the loss of a son and it’s so completely wrong, but look at these folks; they are all smiling, they are laughing, enjoying each other’s company “â€ it’s important. This event is important,” said survivor Sal Cataudella.
Sal is a survivor of his son, Sgt. Sean Kelly Cataudella, who died in Iraq in 2003 in a Humvee rollover accident. His last act was to bring in his gunner. “It’s been pretty bad “â€ getting over the loss,” Sal said.
When asked about his favorite memory of Sean, he shared this story.
“We were in the Civil Air Patrol. We were out one evening checking on equipment, and my son literally ran up the side of a 20-foot tall boulder, literally. And he turns around and announces to the whole world, ‘Hey dad don’t come up here. It’s too steep for you.’
“Now as an old man I knew it was too steep, but he didn’t need to tell the whole world,” Cataudella said with a chuckle. Sean was 28 when he passed.
More than 25 people attended the Family Fun Day at the bowling alley, hosted by Army Community Service’s Survivor Outreach Services program. Every person in the group came from a different background but they all had one thing in common “â€ a fallen Soldier.
Spc. Lance Clark, 24, passed away a little less than two years ago. His mother, Laurie Clark, shared her best memories of Lance during the event. “One [thing I remember] was his love of scuba diving; he loved the indifference and peace of the two worlds in the water. The other was the day he called me, and he had made a difference when he was overseas. He discovered a problem and managed to get it fixed and make it safer for all the Soldiers “â€ he was very proud of that,” Laurie said.
Cassie Clark, Spc. Clark’s sister, attended the bowling event with her family and boyfriend. “It’s fun “â€ it’s better than most of the events because it is more, ‘Let’s have a good time’ instead of ‘Let’s sit around and talk about stuff,'” Clark said.
“I think it is awesome, I love that they [SOS] bring us together for something positive instead of something negative. We are all in a club that nobody should have to join. It’s wonderful to have events that are fun and uplifting,” Laurie said.
“They have suffered through such tragedies and they have had to overcome, and they overcome [them] so beautifully,” SOS Financial Coordinator Evelyn Uncel said.
“These are people that form bonds and friendships, and this is a way for them to just to have fun. Just pure unadulterated fun and you can tell, they are just cutting up and having fun. Some of these people have never bowled in their lives, and they are bowling. That’s all we wanted out of this event was for them to enjoy themselves,” Uncel said.
The SOS provided the attendees with free lunch and bowling for the afternoon.
“We love these people “â€ we are so committed to them,” Uncel said.
A lot of the families that attended the event have been with SOS for a long time and have remained upbeat throughout the entire process, like the Gonzalez, Cataudella and Munoz families.
“I lost my cousin, Jesus Gonzalez. He died over in Afghanistan four years ago, come September,” said survivor Sarina Rivera. “He ran over an explosive device with the front tire.
“It was very hard at first, but after a while it started to settle a little more, and with the help of my family and everything, it helped to bring some closure. I am enjoying the event a lot. I think it is one of the best things they have had, and I hope they have more,” Rivera said.
“I’m especially happy about the fact that our survivors from Tucson traveled all the way here to support the event. It gives the Tucson and Sierra Vista survivors and outside areas an opportunity to come together and meet one another,” said Army Community Service Director Stacy Jones.
“The great thing about the program the Army has established is that this is a long-term program. It has no end-date because we want our survivors to know we are with them throughout this whole transition,” Jones said.
“Well we had this event to honor the survivors of the fallen Soldiers. We work with survivors from the entire southern Arizona area, and we wanted to make sure to have an event for them that was not just support groups on a monthly basis but also something fun for them and their families,” said Survivor Outreach Services Support Coordinator Alma Estrada.
“The children really enjoy it, and it is practicing resilience for the families. They love the program, they believe in the program, and I believe we can help them in their journey during their grievance so we want to make sure we are here for them,” Estrada added.
“We look forward to having more events like this, outside of the scope of just support groups. We want to bring more ‘fun’ in events to our survivors,” Jones said.
For questions about the SOS program, call 533.6879.