Fort Bragg Families of the fallen grieve among new friends
Vanessa Gabrielson, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors volunteer, helps the son of a fallen Soldier write a letter to his dad. The letter was then tied to a balloon and released during the afternoon memorial event Aug. 21.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - 'Band of brothers' is a term we've come to understand and connect with the Army. That same sense of brotherhood and sisterhood is the glue that bonds survivors of fallen Soldiers within the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. On Saturday, nearly 250 survivors within the Fort Bragg community, spouses, parents, siblings and children, converged on the grounds of the Pinehurst Golf Resort for a weekend of remembrance.

"People think this is just about the grief and that we're coming together because someone died. Far more than that, we're coming together because someone extraordinary lived an amazing life that included service in defense of freedom," said Bonnie Carroll, founder and chairman of TAPS, a nonprofit veterans service organization serving military Families.

"So we get to come here and share our stories and learn how to cope with a tremendous hole in our hearts and to find that support," added Carroll.

Regional seminars help Families deal with death in a variety of forms - combat, noncombat, illness, training accidents, suicide and other unexpected tragedies. While adults attended seminars and breakout sessions, which included peer mentor training (equipping survivors to help other military Families), the children participated in Good Grief Camp.

Carroll's vision for the Good Grief Camp includes a solid support system with other military kids and adult counselors trained to handle child trauma and loss, most notably the death of a parent in uniform.

"They have a wonderful combination of activities and sessions aimed at giving (kids) coping strategies to use when they get back home," said Carroll.

The TAPS mission attracted volunteers from other service organizations as well. Brynn Vollmer, community affairs manager for the Southeast region of Families United and an active-duty spouse, said, "It's really important that someone is there for Families. Personally, I would want someone to be there for me if, God forbid, that were to ever happen.

"They get to grieve in a way they can't outside of this community," added Vollmer, who handed out TAPS shirts, name tags, goody bags and buttons stamped with photographs of each participant's deceased Soldier.

Carroll, who created TAPS 17 years ago, understands how journeying past the death of a Soldier is often a long and difficult process. Carroll's husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an airplane crash during the first Gulf War, and now she mentors more than 30,000 surviving Family members of deceased military heroes through TAPS. In Carroll's words, the organization provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, seminars, casework assistance and 24/7 crisis intervention for Family is in every military branch.

According to Carroll, "I just had a mom come up to me and say that TAPS saved her life. She was just with us in Indianapolis and now she's here in Pinehurst. This is her safe place to be ... to heal."

For more information on TAPS, including seminars and volunteer opportunities, visit www.taps.org.

Page last updated Fri August 27th, 2010 at 12:35