Lorie Southerland didn’t know the Fort Bragg Fisher House existed until the day she needed it.
Her son, Spc. Michael Rodriguez, had just been killed in Iraq, and her out-of-town family needed somewhere to stay for his memorial service. Fisher House opened its doors, as it has for hundreds of other military families, offering respite when loved ones come to Fort Bragg for medical treatment, or to mourn.
Southerland channeled her grief into service, working at the Fisher House for six years.
"I have that connection, automatically, when a Gold Star family comes in for a memorial service," she said. "Nobody understands that loss except another Gold Star family."
As a home away from home, Fisher House provides a place to find solace during challenging times. Families can cook holiday or birthday meals in the communal kitchen for those receiving treatment at Womack Army Medical Hospital.
"We have these moments, these little gifts, “said Southerland. "I know what it means to that family to have that time with their son, something they’ll treasure.”
She’s never forgotten the staff sergeant who let her son off duty for three hours on Thanksgiving in 2005, allowing him to share a meal with his family before deploying to Iraq.
Above all, she said, the staff and volunteers at Fort Bragg Fisher House act as extended family for service members who are far away from their own support networks.
“I don’t care how old you are, you’re still somebody’s child,” said Southerland. “Those soldiers come in and I get to be their mother for a little bit.”
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org