USA — Gala Honors Survivor Assistance Program Supporters

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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