For her work with Gold Star families, her volunteer efforts with Fort Sill's Survivor Outreach Services, and her continued dedication to the Army, Karen Beattie is the 2013 Army Times Soldier of the Year. (Staff)
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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Karen D. Beattie and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Clifford Beattie, deployed together to Iraq with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. She learned the devastating news almost immediately after a roadside bomb ripped through her husband’s truck: He and another soldier were dead.
Beattie, suddenly a widow at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, couldn’t even call her mother for comfort. She had to wait for the Army to officially notify next of kin.
As she waited, Beattie struggled with her grief, an ordeal that nearly prompted her to leave the Army after 12 years in uniform. Instead, the experience of that terrible day in May 2011 led her to play a prominent role in helping other Gold Star families.
“The more survivors I met, you just realize that we want that camaraderie. You want that love and friendship,” Beattie said. “I’ve been through it. Just because you lose someone doesn’t mean you can’t be loved or supported, and they must never be forgotten.”
For her work with Gold Star families, her volunteer efforts with Fort Sill’s Survivor Outreach Services, and her continued dedication to the Army, Beattie is the 2013 Army Times Soldier of the Year.
When she’s not at work, where she was taking on duties meant for three warrant officers, or volunteering, she is helping family — a cousin who fell on hard times; another who had to lose 60 pounds to get into the Marine Corps.
An avid runner, she not only helped her cousin get into shape, she competes in charity races to help raise funds for her church.
Beattie, an electronic systems missile maintenance technician with the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, joined the Army in 1999 to be a radar repairer. She met her husband in 2007, when both were drill sergeants, assigned to the same company at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. They married a year later.
“We got married on a four-day because that was all we could get from the Army,” she said.
He deployed in 2009, and she headed to warrant officer school. The couple deployed together in November 2010. Although he had not been home long from his war tour, Clifford Beattie got himself assigned to his wife’s brigade so they could deploy together. An infantryman, Clifford Beattie would serve as the platoon sergeant for his commander’s personal security detachment, and she would serve as the electronic warfare officer for her battalion commander.
At Camp Liberty, the couple’s respective battalions were located across the street from each other, but they didn’t live together. They would see each other at the dining facility and, for privacy, chat online. “We did Skype and Yahoo even though we were just across the street,” she said.
On May 22, 2011, Clifford Beattie and his team went out on a mission to counter the indirect fire attacks that had been hitting Camp Liberty. Karen Beattie was in her containerized housing unit studying for a college final.
Her battalion commander, Lt. Col. Dale Ferrand, and a chaplain came to her CHU and broke the news to her. Even in her grief, Beattie said she worried about Ferrand, and how difficult it must have been for him to have been the one to notify her.
“I think he did an amazing job,” she said. “I worked with my battalion commander every day. I can’t imagine what it was like for him to have to tell me the news.”
In the following months, Beattie grieved for her husband and tried to figure out her future.
Today, she is one of Fort Sill’s Survivor Outreach Services’ most active volunteers.
A conversation with a fellow Gold Star wife motivated her.
“We were each other’s date, because we do that, and we got to talking, and I asked her about her Gold Star pin,” Beattie said. “She said, ‘I don’t wear the Gold Star pin because it makes other people uncomfortable.’ And I was just heartbroken by that, and hearing about families who feel like the unit forgot them.”
Beattie said she understands people are uncomfortable talking about death, but she also doesn’t want Gold Star families to feel alone.
“I want families to know there are resources and soldiers who want to help,” she said.
She also wants to make sure people know what a Gold Star family is, as she has had to explain to others what the Gold Star pin means and that she lost her husband, said Jodi Jordan, the support coordinator for SOS at Fort Sill.
“She didn’t want other families to go through that,” Jordan said.
In May, Beattie organized Gold Star Awareness Month, recruiting fellow soldiers to educate local residents, Jordan said. Beattie also put together a Gold Star event for families in Oklahoma and Arkansas, hand-pressing designs on custom-made T-shirts for every Gold Star family member in attendance. Forty-two participants from 18 Gold Star families participated in the event, billed as a family reunion.
The idea was to bring the families together to “relax before Memorial Day, because Memorial Day is hard,” Beattie said.
In addition, twice a month, Beattie, along with other survivors, speaks on a panel to train future casualty notification and assistance officers. She also mentors other survivors, and her brigade is now partnered with SOS, providing volunteers for events and anything else survivors might need, Jordan said.
“People just love her,” Jordan said. “ Her impact, having someone who’s as passionate and dedicated as Karen who’s been through what she has, is tremendous.”
Beattie insists what she’s doing isn’t special. She relies on her faith, her and her husband’s families, and her friends for strength and support.
“I don’t do this on my own,” she said. “That’s the point. If you’re a survivor, you don’t have to do this alone.”