The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is a family, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said at the organization’s annual Honor Guard Gala last night.
Dempsey provided the keynote address at the event, held in the National Building Museum here. Dempsey noted it was the fourth year he and his wife, Deanie, were invited to the TAPS gala.
TAPS, now in its 21st year, is a nonprofit national veterans service organization that offers peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, casualty casework assistance and crisis intervention for military families.
Bonnie Carroll, who serves as TAPS president, founded the organization after her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Thomas C. Carroll, died in a military plane crash in 1992.
“It’s hard to find the right words to say about what you all mean to us,” Dempsey said to the attendees. He added that while he had arrived with prepared remarks, it was while listening to Carroll and other speakers that he heard “the constant reminder that this is a family.”
The chairman spoke of the strength and courage of TAPS survivors and how he admires the “strength and resilience of the families of the fallen.”
Turning to Carroll, Dempsey said that while she originated TAPS around her kitchen table, “It incredibly and profoundly still feels that way,” even amid last night’s massive venue with tall columns, television cameras, large TV screens and hundreds of people at the formal event.
Dempsey told Carroll she had “an incredible gift” to allow the TAPS survivors in such a large setting to feel as if they were still seated with her at her kitchen table 21 years ago.
Chairman Sings Folk Songs to Survivors
Calling the gala a celebration, Dempsey stepped up to a microphone with members of “The President's Own” U.S. Marine Band’s contemporary country music ensemble, Free Country, and singing lead vocals, he dedicated two Irish folk songs to TAPS survivors.
Dempsey said his first song, “Red is a Rose,” depicts “a reflection of loss.” The chairman and choral members followed up with “The Irish Pub,” bringing audience members to their feet to applaud.
Naval Operations Chief Recognized by TAPS
Three people received TAPS awards at the gala.
Actor Eric Dane, who plays the lead role as a naval officer in the TV series “The Last Ship,” participated in the ceremony. An advocate of TAPS, Dane lost his Navy father in Vietnam when Dane was 7 years old.
Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, was honored with the TAPS Honor Guard Military Award. Navy Adm. Michelle J. Howard, the vice chief of naval operations, accepted the award for Greenert, who was unable to attend because of a loss in his family, she said.
Howard shared Greenert’s sentiments about TAPS with audience members.
“The TAPS family means everything to the chief of naval operations,” she said. “He appreciates how you take care of our sailors and their families.”
TAPS supported families after several crises, including the Washington Navy Yard attacks in September 2013, and the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Howard noted.
“You have taught us how to be strong … as we grieved, as we survived, as we lived after tragedy. You are part of our family and part of our lives,” she said.
“There are 50,000 men, women and children who stand at the top of a mountain, free, within themselves,” because of TAPS, Howard said.
The second honor, the TAPS Honor Guard Congressional Award, went to U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.
And Pat Bye, surviving mother of Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeffrey Svoboda, who died in 2010, was honored with the TAPS Honor Guard Senator Ted Stevens Leadership Award.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)