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Gold Star Family Members Can Now Become Congressional Fellows

Gold Star Family Members Can Now Become Congressional Fellows
Jane Horton, widow of Army Spc. Christopher David Horton, said the Congressional fellowship opportunity for Gold Star families, which carries the name of her husband, will help family members give "purpose to pain." (Defense Department photo)

This article by Dorothy Mills-Gregg first appeared on Military.com, the premier resource for the military and veteran community. 

To give members of Gold Star families first-hand experience in Congress, lawmakers approved a yearlong fellowship for them Oct. 29.

"It will allow Gold Star Families to both participate in and learn about the democracy their loved one gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, while introducing the resolution on the floor.

Passed by voice vote, the paid fellowship is named in memory of Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Cooley and Spc. Christopher Horton. The fellowship will be open to children, stepchildren, spouses and siblings of service members who died in action or from a training-related injury.

The fellowship will be in Washington, D.C., or in the district office of a representative or delegate in the House.

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Horton's widow, Jane, said the program will help Gold Star families "give purpose to pain" and have a "living legacy" close to representatives, reminding them of what their votes mean. Only 15 percent of Congress has served in the military.

"You can walk into almost any members' offices and there'll be a sign that says, 'We hire heroes," Horton said. "And there's never been anything like that to include Gold Star families or the families left behind in war."

Horton worked with Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Mississippi, to create the program, which she said will probably take a few months to set up. It will mirror Congress' current wounded warrior program.

"It's a beautiful thing, you know, of the people, by the people and for the people," Horton said. "I really feel that this bill is the epitome of that process. It's something I was passionate about. I met a member of Congress who cared, and so we worked on the bill together, and here it is."

After watching from the House balcony with other Gold Star families as the resolution passed, she posted on Facebook, "Today was a humbling day -- and one that reminds us that in America -- the land of the free, and home of the brave, anything can be done if you don't give up."

Cooley, 35, a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard's 150th Combat Engineer Battalion, died in 2005 during Operation Iraqi Freedom when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Horton, 26, died in 2011 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He was attached to the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of Oklahoma National Guard and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

"Nothing can ever fill the void left by the loss of a loved one who was killed serving the nation," Lofgren said. "But we in Congress should be doing everything we can to help lift up those who have suffered that unfathomable loss."

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