National Guard chief honors Memorial Day by renewing ties with survivor group

By Army Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard BureauMay 28, 2021

National Guard chief begins Memorial Day weekend by renewing ties with survivor group
Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, addresses attendees at the TAPS 27th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp, Arlington, Virginia, May 28, 2021. (Photo Credit: MSG Jim Greenhill) VIEW ORIGINAL

ARLINGTON, Virginia – The National Guard’s senior general officer reaffirmed today the component’s relationship with a group providing comfort, care and resources to those grieving the death of a military loved one.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, and Bonnie Carroll, president, Tragedy and Assistance Program for Survivors, exchanged a memorandum of understanding, continuing an institutional relationship that stretches back to the founding of TAPS.

“This one is personal,” Hokanson told those attending the 27th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp during the four-day Memorial Day weekend here. “TAPS was born out of tragedy – the death of eight Soldiers in the Army National Guard in a 1992 plane crash.

“Among them was Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll – Bonnie Carroll’s husband. We still honor their service. We still say their names. And we still stand beside the survivors who mourn them.”

TAPS provides immediate and long-term help, hope and healing through a national peer support network, and connection to grief resources, at no cost to surviving families and loved ones. The organization serves all military services and components. Relationship to the deceased and circumstances of death are irrelevant: All are welcome.

“What is unique about TAPS is the level of commitment to all survivors,” Hokanson said. “Your loved one may not have died on the battlefield. They might not have died in a duty status. You may not be officially recognized as ‘next of kin.’ But TAPS has built a sanctuary that transcends these distinctions, honoring all service members who’ve lost their lives, and supporting the loved ones they left behind.”

Army Spc. Bradley Lawson, North Dakota National Guard, was on duty in the nation’s capital Nov. 24 when the phone call came telling him his father, Army Master Sgt. Robert Lawson, 42, died from complications of the COVID-19 he contracted while serving on a pandemic support mission back in the family’s home state.

Spc. Lawson is attending his first TAPS weekend.

For Army Spc. Austin Wollschlager, also of the North Dakota Guard, it’s 17 years since he first attended a TAPS weekend after his uncle, Army Spc. Jon Fettig, was killed in action in Iraq on July 22, 2003.

Now, Spc. Wollschlager is back so he can pay forward to others some of the support he received.

“Your loved one mattered,” Gen. Hokanson told attendees. “Their service mattered. Their smile, their hugs, their favorite things, their ambitions, their hopes, their fears – they all mattered. They are not defined by the absence left in our lives, but the difference they made here on earth.”

Indeed, one of TAPS’ themes is “remember the dash.”

What TAPS volunteers mean by remembering the dash is to focus less on a lost loved one’s date of birth or date of death, more on the dash between the two.

“It’s not about how or where they died,” said Carroll, the TAPS founder and president. “It’s about the life they lived, the selfless service they gave to our country, and the inspiration they continue to be in our lives.”

TAPS is a national nonprofit 501(c)3 Veterans Service Organization neither part of, nor endorsed by, the Department of Defense.

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