America Supports You: TAPS Helps Families Cope With Loss of Loved Ones
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2007 Families members who have lost loved ones serving in the military are gathered here this Memorial Day weekend for a survivors’ national support group seminar.
Legendary singer Pat Boone speaks with older TAPS members today at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors’ 13th Annual National Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors held in Arlington, Va. Defense Dept. photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Five hundred older family members and 300 young people are attending this year’s survivors’ seminars and associated events, said Bonnie Carroll, chairman of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).
Established in 1994, TAPS is a nonprofit organization that helps survivors cope and heal after their loss through a variety of programs that include a national peer-support network, crisis intervention care, grief and trauma resources, and a 24-hour hotline.
Over the Memorial Day weekend the young TAPS members will visit national monuments and “spend time around Washington learning how America honors their families,” Carroll said. “Their loss is part of the legacy of this nation.”
Marine Gen. John F. Sattler, director for strategic plans and policy with the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the family members today during the TAPS’ 13th Annual National Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Arlington, Va.
“It’s extremely important that we have groups (like TAPS) where you can open up and share and discuss and talk,” he said. Talking over grief issues, he noted, “is not a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of strength, and I applaud you for your strength.
“We constantly tell the warriors, ‘You have got to talk these things through,’ Sattler said. “Men and women with shared experiences have the opportunity to talk to others and I would please encourage you to do that.”
Sattler told the young people America’s military members “cannot do their jobs without strong family support.”
Singing star Pat Boone also addressed a group of older TAPS members.
Wearing a red, white and blue shirt patterned like a U.S. flag, Boone told a group of older TAPS members that he was in the nation’s capital to participate in Memorial Day observance events. Boone also is in town to unveil “For My Country,” an anthem and documentary dedicated to America’s National Guard.
“I had not known about TAPS until just recently,” the 73-year-old Boone said. “When I heard about this (meeting) I was delighted to be invited just to come.”
Army Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, commanding general of the Military District of Washington, also was on hand to address the older TAPS members.
“There is nothing nobler than what your loved ones have done and we’re just privileged to be here and to be part of this,” Swan said.
TAPS members Stella Maynard, 53, and Randy Beard, 49, both lost soldier-sons who’d died two weeks apart during separate operations in Ramadi, Iraq, in October 2004.
Maynard said her son, 30-year-old Army Spc. Stephen Paul Downing II, and Beard’s son, 22-year-old Army Spc. Bradley S. Beard, both served with Service Battery, 217th Field Artillery, attached to the 2nd Infantry Division.
Maynard, of Burkesville, Ky., is intensely proud of her son’s and others’ military service and sacrifices.
“None of them die in vain. Anyone that thinks that … I would probably have words with,” she said, noting that U.S. servicemembers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to preserve freedom for all Americans.
Yet, memories of Stephen can unexpectedly leap into her thoughts, causing a sharp flow of tears, Maynard said. “All of a sudden it’s there, but you go through it and it is gone,” she said.
“We’re not going to recover our sons; we’re going to learn to readjust and go on without them,” said Beard, a resident of Chapel Hill, N.C. TAPS “can empathize” with the survivors, he noted, and assist members in moving forward.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my son, but you just learn how to go on,” Beard said.
Letitia Imel, a 17-year-old teenager from Rochester, Ind., was among the group of young people attending the seminar. Imel’s uncle, Jeff McLochlin, was an Army National Guardsman who was killed in Afghanistan on July 5, 2006. Imel said her uncle had essentially taken over the duties of her real father, who had died four years previously.
“This is my first day, but it’s really good so far,” Imel said of the TAPS program.
Ashley McLain, 31, is a volunteer mentor who is helping Imel with her loss.
“It’s humbling to be around individuals who have lost a loved one,” said McLain, a resident of Berryville, Va. “It’s difficult and challenging, but it is also very rewarding to help someone else out in their time of grief.
TAPS is among the more than 250 businesses and organizations nationwide that participate in the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which recognizes citizens’ support for military men and women and communicates that support to members of the U.S. armed forces here and abroad.