Remembering, honoring, connecting always part of the Air and Space Force family

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren Cobin
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Gold Star families are recognized for having experienced the loss of a loved one during a time of conflict.

For these families, nothing will ever be the same, but they are not alone, and they are certainly not forgotten.

“You know, one of your biggest fears when you lose someone is that they’ll be forgotten,” said Jiffy Helton, mother of U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Joseph D. Helton, who passed away in 2009. “He didn’t need to be outside the wire the day his vehicle struck an improved explosive device, but he was because he wanted his Airmen to know was there for them.”

The phrase “Gold Star Family,” dates back to World War I. Spouses, children, parents, and siblings displayed service flags featuring a blue star for every immediate family member serving in the Armed Forces. For those who lost their loved one in service to our nation, the star’s color would be changed to gold, hence the term, “Gold Star Family.”

Similarly, the Gold Star lapel button, which is displayed by surviving family members, may be small in size, but it’s gigantic in its message of appreciation and respect for their fallen loved ones.

Displaying the lapel button, purple or gold, each carries an abiding gratitude for our entire nation as it reminds us of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

Honoring the history and significance of brave service members and their families, the nation has recognized the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day since June 23, 1936, after the passage of a joint congressional resolution.

Remembering Gold Star and surviving families by sharing the legacy of fallen service members connects those suffering the trials of grief and loss.

“Coming [to MacDill] year after year for this shows me that although I lost my son, I’ve gained a big family of people who want to support me,” said Jiffy.

While every loss is meaningful and substantial in its own way, Helton was one in particular that was different.

Originally stationed at MacDill AFB, Helton voluntarily deployed out of the 6th Security Forces Squadron. He served as a flight commander for the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron in Iraq. Instead of going home upon completing his six-month voluntary tour, he offered to stay when the unit needed someone to step-up. Helton was killed during his deployment to Iraq in 2009.

A year later, MacDill AFB established a tradition that has carried on to this day, which is the annual Helton Hall Memorial Run, which is held in memory of Helton for his selfless service.

“This is bigger than Joe now,” said Jiffy. “This is about reaching out and making sure the families and friends of those 13 other defenders are okay. This is about remembering all the fallen defenders.”

Meeting families through unfortunate circumstances, Antoinette Geronimo, a community readiness consultant and Air Force Families Forever liaison at MacDill, shares the value and importance of honoring Gold Star families.

The Air Force Families Forever (AFFF) program offers guidance to immediate family members who are affected by the loss of a service member.

“Many times, I find the families I connect with becoming my own family,” Geronimo emphasizes.

To connect families of fallen Airmen and Guardians to their Air and Space Force Family promoting survivor resilience, AFFF facilitates various support programs.

Additionally, AFFF provides access to several support services, authorizing privileges and patronage to the many facilities located at MacDill.

“I want families to know that they can turn to someone, and that they are not alone,” said Geronimo. “They, and their loved ones are not forgotten.”

​For more information about the AFFF program, please visit