Chairman Lauds Group for Work With Families of Fallen Warriors
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 1, 2009 Those in uniform must always remember their fallen comrades and their families, and those families deserve help in enduring their heartache, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here last night.
“All of us know that nobody goes through life alone -- nobody,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told those gathered for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Honor Guard Gala. “[And] nobody should have to go through grief alone. It’s really that that TAPS does so well.”
Bonnie Carroll started TAPS after her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, an Alaska National Guardsman, was killed in a plane crash in 1992. Seven others died in the same crash. TAPS, a nonprofit organization, provides ongoing peer-based support to anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one who served in the armed forces. It brings together survivors for comfort, healing, and hope through grief seminars for adults and its Good Grief Camps for children.
It’s easy to call TAPS the “gold standard,” Mullen said.
“I use it as a gold standard in my travels, in my discussions when I speak with people about organizations [that] reach out and help those who serve and help the families who serve and have sacrificed so much,” he said. “All of you who are members, or who work for … and support TAPS, please don’t ever underestimate the impact of what you do.
“It’s almost beyond what we can describe,” he said.
Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham found words after accepting the TAPS Honor Guard Leadership Award.
“Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is truly for survivors,” the commander of Division West and Fort Carson, Colo., said. “TAPS touches every survivor. “[It’s] there for everyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They never take time off.”
Graham’s son, Army 2nd Lt. Kevin Graham, was killed in Iraq in 2004 after warning his fellow soldiers of a roadside bomb. Another son, Jeffrey Graham, an ROTC cadet, took his own life while studying to become an Army physician.
Graham’s experience with a loved one’s suicide allowed him to help two young men deal with their father’s suicide. Marine Maj. John Ruocco, 40, returned from Iraq in 2004. The Marine Cobra pilot took his own life on Feb. 7, 2005. His sons, Joey and Billy, met Graham at a TAPS national convention.
“He took me aside and he explained how my dad was fighting a battle in his mind, and as well, on the ground,” Joey Ruocco said. “I have a very deep understanding of suicide, since my mom’s a counselor herself. He made me understand even deeper. I’d like to thank him for that, and I’d like to thank him for helping other people understand.”
These shared stories, as well as those shared through a TAPS video, provided attendees, many of whom are survivors, with common ground.
“I think it’s so important that we find ways to bond together in public and to understand the depth of the grief of these families and what they’re going through,” said Tom Brokaw, former NBC Nightly News anchor. “I want to pay a special, personal tribute to you who are here tonight -- for reasons that they would rather not be -- for their courage, for their bravery, and for serving as model citizens for the rest of us.
“We gather here as members of the American family, here and abroad, at war and at piece,” Brokaw continued in the event’s keynote address. “Those of us on the civilian side must make greater efforts every day to say, ‘We’re here. What can we do?’”
Jack May helped Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway present the TAPS Honor Guard Congressional Award to Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb. May was 2 when his father, Marine Staff Sgt. Donald May, died in Iraq in 2003 when his tank fell off a bridge over the Euphrates River.
Information provided to TAPS by bereavement experts indicates that for each active-duty military loss of life, 10 people, on average, are significantly affected. From operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, that works out to about 49,350 affected survivors, including about 2,220 spouses and 3,454 children, estimates based on research by Scripps-Howard News Service in 2005.
TAPS has provided its services, free of charge, to more than 25,000 surviving family members, casualty assistance officers, chaplains and other who support bereaved families.