WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 23, 2015) – Through bitter cold – snow, wind, the slickness of sleet – and stifling humidity, heat and soaking rain, the burials and inurnments at Arlington National Cemetery always press forward so families can move through grieving to utter their last goodbyes to those they love being laid to rest.
Usually the services have gatherings of family, extended kin, comrades and close friends. Occasionally, though, there’s the Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guardsman who’s passed alone. The Old Guard pallbearers are there to do their dignified jobs as is the chaplain to read scripture, but there’s no immediate family.
Off to the side stands a woman in conservative dress, her hand clasping the crooked arm of a generally much taller Old Guard Soldier. In this case, they are the sole Army Family of this fallen Soldier.
She is one of about 60 Army Arlington Ladies, or AAL, and she offers the personal condolences of the Army chief of staff – if only to be passed to the Soldier’s spirit. Where there are loved ones, she offers the chief’s condolences and her card should they wish to talk with her.
About 40 of the Army Arlington Ladies gathered, June 19, on the front porch of “Quarters One” for a reception in their honor. Along with Linda Odierno, the women awaited the arrival of her husband, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
As soon as the Soldiers arrived, the ladies greeted them with wide smiles, handshakes and hugs, then gathered round for a group photo on the steps and wrap-around porch of the historic house on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, which has been home for 107 years to all 38 chiefs of staff and their Families.
Following the photo session, the chief and wife, Linda, invited the ladies into their home where he relayed a few stories about the history of the house, saying it was a real honor to share the “Army’s house” with friends and guests “and especially with this group of ladies… it means a lot,” he said.
“The other thing I’d like to mention since I’ve been the chief of staff is this program called Soldiers for Life and that program was established to make sure that everybody keeps their identity from the time they enlist or get commissioned in the service from the time they leave the service and for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“I would say that you ladies are clearly Army volunteers for life,” Odierno said. “Many of you have done this for a very long time and you continue to give back to the Army and in my mind, you represent what’s best: a willingness to continue giving back to the Army you love… and we truly, truly appreciate that.
“There’s no more important time than when a Family is going through the incredible grief of loss… that they understand the Army is there for them and you all make that a little easier by what you do, by letting them know that we do care about them, so for me this is very important for us to have you here to thank you for helping our Soldiers, past and present, as they continue to serve through difficult times,” he said.
The chief also thanked chairwoman Margaret Mensch for her untiring selfless-service in leading and coordinating the group since 1999, though she’s been an Arlington Lady since 1978.
After inducting the two newest volunteers into the Army Arlington Ladies, Odierno presented each with AAL pins and his personal coins. Following the presentation, the chief, his wife, and Dailey escorted the ladies into the dining room for a reception with the soft music of the Army Band’s choir.
It would be a short reception for several of the ladies. There were seven funerals needing their attention on this day. In keeping with their motto that no Soldier will be buried alone, an Army Arlington Lady will always be there.