Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Duskin served with the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. During seven deployments over the course of 15 years, he and his wife Maggie established routines to cope with his absences and keep the lives of their three children running smoothly.
Despite years of practice, preparing for a deployment was always a challenge.
"You have to have his burial uniform waiting in the closet." she said, remembering the checklist they consulted each time.
That preparation proved to be necessary. In October 2012, Michael died from wounds suffered when he came under small-arms fire while patrolling in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. His death was one of four his unit suffered that year.
When Michael's team mates returned from Afghanistan the following spring, they wanted to find a way to honor those they lost. Instead of a somber memorial service, they proposed a party, a beef and beer fundraiser.
"I want it to be something that memorializes their life, not their death," Duskin recalled thinking at the time. "I can't keep doing these sad things."
The fundraiser was like a gigantic family reunion, she said. They raised $80,000 that first year and decided to make it an annual event.
Six years later, the Duskin & Stephens Foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the families of special forces soldiers.
"A lot of what we do is to help other Gold Star families," Duskin said. "The last couple years I've gotten more involved, and it has helped our healing process."
The Ft. Bragg Stories series 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.