WASHINGTON — Crystal Becker felt lost when her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Shane R. Becker, died when his unit came under enemy attack near Baghdad in April 2007. She knew she would eventually come to terms with her grief, but feared for her two daughters — a 7-year-old whose world revolved around her daddy and a newborn who could never know him.
Becker found her solace in the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a program committed to providing emotional support and services to grieving military families. She and her girls have become regulars at TAPS’ military survivor seminars and Good Grief Camps as they share their feelings with other military families struggling with their own loss.
“You could offer my daughter Disney World or Disneyland and she would say no, she wants to go to TAPS,” Becker said of her oldest daughter, Cierra, now age 11. “We go every year, and every time there’s crying and pain and hurt. But it doesn’t overshadow the greatness that this new family we have found has to offer.”
Last night, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz and Veterans Affairs Secretary and former Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki in praising the program that has brought so much comfort to so many military families.
Speaking at TAPS’ annual Honor Guard Gala held at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium here, Mullen called TAPS a “world-class organization that in so many ways sets the gold standard” in serving families struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one.
Mullen recalled the Vietnam War days, when no similar programs were available for military families. The chairman said he’s gratified that so many Vietnam veterans and their children have reached out as supporters and mentors to this generation’s military families during their time of need.
“I only say that as a reminder that I don’t think we will ever be done here,” Mullen said. “I think we need to keep pushing the envelope of support for the families of the fallen in ways that we often times haven’t thought about.”
Just returned from a trip to Boise, Idaho, where he and his wife, Deborah, met with 13 families of the fallen, Mullen said he asked a mother who had lost her son in Iraq what he could do to help. Her response was, “Please don’t ever forget… Please don’t let our country forget.”
“It is a reminder about our responsibility to those who have sacrificed so much for all of us — to say with emphasis [and] to make sure we absolutely never, ever forget their sacrifices,” Mullen told the group.
Mullen thanked Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS, the donors and volunteers who help ensure its success and the surviving families with living up to that promise. “Thank you for remembering and moving forward with courage,” the chairman said.
Shinseki was honored last night with the annual TAPS Military Leadership Award for his lifetime commitment of supporting surviving families of the fallen while in uniform and now as VA secretary.
Accepting the award on behalf of America’s 22,000 veterans and the VA, Shinseki lauded the TAPS program for its support for families of the fallen, and the example these families provide.
“To the survivor families and their children, we are blessed to witness the quality of your strength [and] your grace as you deal with the adjustments in your life,” Shinseki said. “You provide great motivation to all of us. Thank you for the model of strength and grace that you provide to all of us.”
Mullen, Shinseki and Schwartz all held high praise for the late Sen. Ted Stevens, the recipient of this year’s TAPS Congressional Award. Stevens was a staunch supporter of military men and women, and he was instrumental in helping to establish TAPS in 1994, Carroll said.
In remembrance of that contribution, TAPS awarded the first annual TAPS Ted Stevens Leadership Award to a TAPS survivor, Lisa Dolan.
Dolan is the widow of Navy Capt. Bob Dolan Jr., who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. Since her husband’s death, Dolan has served as a peer mentor through TAPS to help other military widows, raised and trained therapy dogs to comfort grieving military children and worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial.
“Lisa has been a true leader in the survivor community, and we are honored to recognize her efforts tonight,” Carroll said.
The program concluded with a group of children from TAPS programs waving goodnight to the attendees as Nashville recording artist Barry Michael performed the original song, “Heroes and Angels.”
The TAPS Honor Guard Gala raises funds to support the organization’s programs, including peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, case work assistance and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the armed forces. This year’s gala raised a record $1.1 million for TAPS programs and services.
All TAPS services are provided free of charge through donations from corporations, foundations and private citizens.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
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