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Survivors Share Stories at Appreciation Luncheon

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2005 – As a slide show of her husband and children flashed across the screen, a tearful Riikka Jacobsen, told stories of the family's happier times together.

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Riikka Jacobsen, wife of Army Capt. Bill Jacobsen, talks to a group of business supporters during a Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors appreciation luncheon at the National Guard Museum in Washington April 28. Jacobsen's husband was killed in Mosul, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2004. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In the photos were her husband, Army Capt. Bill Jacobsen, and their four children: Billy, 8; Sedric, 7; Yonah, 5; and Avalon, 2.

Last summer the couple took a private trip to Hawaii, where they went sightseeing and swimming. "It was just the two of us," she said. Then later, the entire family went on a weeklong visit to Disneyland. "Those were wonderful times," she added.

A few months later, the "wonderful times" turned to sadness.

Four days before Christmas, Capt. Bill Jacobsen, a strikingly handsome soldier who stood well over 6 feet tall, was killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a military mess tent in Mosul, Iraq.

The blast killed 22 others, including some of the captain's soldiers. "That was one of his goals," she said. "To bring all his soldiers home. Jacobsen told her heartfelt story during an appreciation luncheon for supporters of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which reaches out to help military spouses through the grieving process.

"Bill is my hero; he's my best friend," she said behind tears. "I don't have the words to tell you how much I miss him, how much I love him. I know that I will see him again someday, and that gives me the comfort to carry on.

"Somebody once told me when you love much, you grieve much, and I think that really describes how we feel, how much we miss him," she said of her family.

The event was held at the National Guard Memorial here April 28 and was attended by several business supporters of the program, as well as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, TAPS honorary chairwoman.

Sitting at the head table, Bonnie Carroll, who founded TAPS, knew all too well what Jacobsen is feeling.

She too had lost a spouse tragically. Her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, was among eight soldiers that died in the crash of an Army National Guard aircraft in Alaska in November 1992.

Carroll started TAPS in 1994 to help families deal with the loss of a loved one. In 1997, she said the Department of Veterans Affairs recognized TAPS as a service organization.

She said the program specializes in grief and trauma counseling and offers a peer-support network, among other resources. There are over 10,000 families in the program's database, she said.

Carroll said the program reaches out to spouses, children, parents and friends. "We are there for everyone," she added.

She said spouses who have lost a loved one need to know they are not alone in their grief and pain. "They need to have the support of someone who can truly understand what they've been through, who will speak through the tears and from the heart," she said.

For the Jacobsen family, Carroll did just that.

Jacobsen gently smiled when she told the group that shortly after her husband's death, Carroll "just showed up at my house, sat in my living room, cried with me and hugged me."

She said Carroll then returned with two more military wives who had lost husbands. "That was very, very meaningful to me," she added.

The two have been close friends ever since. "Bonnie is wonderful," Jacobsen said. "You can send her an e-mail and she'll e-mail you right back the next minute."

During her talk, Jacobsen told of her husband's love for his children. She said he loved wrestling on the floor with the children, taking them to the woods and "showing them stuff," and telling them stories.

"These were book worthy stories. I would always tell him to write a book because he was so good about telling these stories."

Jacobsen's husband also loved serving his country. "Bill truly believed in freedom and protecting this beautiful country and all the wonderful rights that we have here," she said.

That may have been part of the reason he loved his work in Iraq, she said, because he was "helping (the Iraqis) to have the opportunity to choose for themselves and have a free country just like we do."

She said her husband had a second goal for his deployment, aside from bringing all his soldiers safely home. That goal was to one day take his family on vacation in a free Iraq.

Despite her husband's death, Jacobsen said that trip is still on. Jacobsen said she hopes to one day make the journey to a free Iraq to prove that her husband's sacrifice was not in vain. "I look forward to that," she said.

After hearing Jacobsen's story, an emotional Rubar Sandi, an Iraqi businessman and strong business supporter of TAPS, came to the podium.

Sandi, whose company, the Sandi Group, provides logistical and security support for nongovernmental agencies in Iraq, came here to speak of Iraq's appreciation for American sacrifices.

After his speech, Sandi reached over to hug Jacobsen and told her that when she is ready to bring her family to a free Iraq, he will make the journey possible. "All expenses paid," he added.

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Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

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