Survivors Group Honors Benefactors

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2007 - The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors paused May 1 to recognize those who help make their program possible during the TAPS 10th Annual Honor Guard Appreciation Luncheon here.

"The Honor Guard Luncheon is our opportunity once a year to thank those who support our program in all sorts of ways," Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder, said.

TAPS includes among its supporters corporations, members of military honor guards, Defense Department personnel and even celebrities. TAPS also is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.

One of the group's staunchest celebrity supporters, Ben Stein, served as the keynote speaker for the luncheon. The former lawyer may be best known for his monotone drone of "Bueller, Bueller" as a high school teacher in the 1980s hit movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Stein said he's involved with the TAPS program because he is humbly grateful to the military and those left behind when a servicemember makes the ultimate sacrifice.

"I get to live this incredibly great life of being an American, get to be free, get to not have al Qaeda coming to my house and chopping my head off all because of people in the armed forces who protect me and keep me alive and well and happy," he said. "None of it -- the movies, the love, the gourmet meals, my favorite restaurant in the whole world -- Waffle House, the frat parties, the mansions, the (sport utility vehicles) -- none of it, none of it would be possible without them."

TAPS, he said, is there for military families when the unthinkable happens.

"What we need is something basic: human companionship," Stein told those gathered. "We want to be able to sit you down with somebody else who's been there, somebody else who's been in your situation ... for you to talk with someone who's been there, walked through the valley of the shadow of death and come through thanks to not walking through that valley alone."

Norma Melo knows benefits of talking with someone who's been there. She lost her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Julian S. Melo, in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004. His task force suffered 22 casualties and 69 traumatic injuries that day.

"In those first few days, Bonnie (Carroll) did what was really needed for us," Melo said. "(She) did something that no one in our chain of command had thought to do, ... you gathered the spouses together, and immediately we had a bond.

"Now we share joyous memories and massive pain, but we (also) share a future," Melo said.

The TAPS program has been providing emotional, peer-based support to families affected by the death of a loved one serving in the armed forces for 15 years.

"At the time of my husband's death in the United States Army, there didn't exist a peer-based support program," Carroll said. "TAPS benchmarked off the best programs in America, talked to the Defense Department, (Department of Veterans Affairs), the other veterans service organizations and (asked), 'Where does the void exist, and how can we best fill it?'"

TAPS goes beyond connecting grieving family members and volunteers who have been there, the group also provides casework assistance and grief and trauma information and resources, as well as a hotline that's available 24 hours seven days a week.

"It's kind of a one-stop 800 number for all those who are grieving the loss of a loved one connected with military service," Carroll said.

TAPS also has, thanks to America Supports You, made another beneficial connection, she said.

"The TAPS Good Grief Camp is partnering with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey (Circus)," Carroll said. "Ringling is bringing in their performers, their clowns to work with the children on grief-related activities.

For instance, juggling will become a lesson in how to handle the emotions of grief. Building a human pyramid will symbolize to the children that they have support from each other, she said.

"It's giving the kids a learning opportunity, but also having a lot of fun," Carroll said. "Having that kind of connection would not have happened without America Supports You."

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