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Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp (As Prepared)

Good evening, everyone. It’s an honor to be here with you all.

Bonnie, thank you and the entire TAPS team for your thoughtful and compassionate leadership. 

Last year, this organization connected with more than 9,000 newly bereaved family members to listen and to help on some of the worst days that anyone can go through. 

You’ve taken families to ballgames so that they can meet one another. 

You’ve helped thousands with your training programs on grief, trauma, and suicide prevention. 

You’ve provided space to support children and teenagers going through unbearable loss. 

And you’ve given people new hope and a strong community that they can rely on.  

Every day, TAPS is making a difference in our military community. 

It’s moving. It’s important. And it’s inspiring. 

So thank you for all of your hard work. 

And Charlene and I are honored to be with you tonight. We all owe surviving family members our unwavering support. And I appreciate the chance to spend part of Memorial Day weekend with you. 

On Memorial Day, the nation pauses with you to remember the devotion to service of your loved ones, to renew our commitment to be worthy of their sacrifice, and to remind the families of our fallen heroes that you are not alone. 

This year, I’m especially mindful that we’re observing the first Memorial Day since the end of America’s longest war. And we remember the 2,461 American service members and personnel who fell in Afghanistan serving their country. 

For surviving family members, we know that grief is with you every day, and not just on Memorial Day. 

And we know that after losing a loved one, 
it can feel like time grinds to a halt.  

This past week, time stood still for the entire community of Uvalde, Texas. And our hearts break again for the senseless murder of 19 innocent children and two of their selfless teachers. 

It is a terrible moment for our nation. It is yet another terrible moment for our nation. 

But in even the most awful times, this organization is there. I know that you’ve been part of the effort to help the people of Uvalde in their season of grief. And I want to thank you for being by their sides. 

That’s who this community is. 

You know, we have the greatest military that the world has ever known. But it’s not just because of our advanced weapons. It’s not because of our helicopters or our tanks. 

It’s because of our people: the men and women who raise their hands to serve and the families and the loved ones who make their service possible. And it’s because of the values of democracy that they make such sacrifices to defend.

You know, we can never take that for granted. We must never take that for granted.

The President, and the First Lady, and the Department of Defense have made supporting military families a sacred obligation. 

This is a national commitment. 

And it’s on all of us. 

And that means working alongside our friends at the VA. That means working with lawmakers here in Washington and in state and local governments. And that means being good partners with community organizations, big and small. 

It also means redoubling our efforts to reduce the stigmas on getting help, to lower the barriers and increase the access to mental-health care, and to continue our critically important work to prevent suicide within our military and veteran family. 

You’ve heard me say this before. And I’m going to keep on saying it: Mental health is health—period. 

We’ve got to tackle the pressures that all of our people face. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support those who have lost loved ones. 

We’ve got to do more to help our newly bereaved families, on every level, from finding comfort to figuring out benefits. 

We know how heavy that load can be. And so we’ve got to find more ways to stand together and do whatever we can to make the load even a little bit lighter. 

This is personal for me. And it was personal for me throughout my years in uniform. 

These are the moments that we pray never come. 

You know, one father in the TAPS community said that his grief was like waves crashing down, one after another. 

But as those waves of loss keep coming, this community does something special. 

You show up. 

For TAPS, that means survivors being there for other survivors. 

It means being there when a newly bereaved spouse needs to make sense of the paperwork to keep their family afloat.

It means being there when a high-school senior who’s lost a parent needs help applying to college.

It means being there for the people of Uvalde… and wherever Americans endure unspeakable pain. 

It means being there to connect those who are grieving with one another and knit the bonds of our military community even closer together. 

Now, that bereaved father who I mentioned a few moments ago, he still feels those relentless waves of grief. But this organization and the community around him have been there to help. 

And as he put it, “I can’t stop the waves, but I can learn how to ride them.” 

So as Secretary of Defense, as a veteran, and as an American, I want to thank you all for looking after one another.

May we continue to honor those who you have lost and always strive to act in ways that live up to their goodness and their sacrifice. 

God bless you all. God bless the United States of America. And God bless all those who have fallen to defend our country. 

Thank you.