JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors held a survivor seminar and "Good Grief Camp" at Joint Base Lewis-McChord North Chapel March 26 and 27 for the nearly 100 area family members and children connected to service members who have died.

TAPS National Seminar Consultant Katherine Dey said the weekend program at JBLM is one of the largest the organization hosts.

"We have served about 25,000 people nationwide," Dey said.

The reception and support given by JBLM units was humbling, she said.

"It's been great," Dey said. "It's just so important to have this kind of showing."

The two-day program focused on coping with loss and sharing experiences with a peer group of fellow survivors, she said.

"I can't say enough about the Soldiers and Airmen who volunteered to be out here today," Dey said. "They are invaluable."

Soldiers helped facilitate group activities such as art projects for children, she said.

Dealing with lingering stress brought on by traumatic loss is a key component of the TAPS doctrine.

Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder is near and dear to the heart of Master Sgt. Creed McCaslin, a TAPS volunteer, who suffered severe wounds as the result of a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004.

McCaslin said his recovery and struggle to return to sound physical and mental health inspired him to reach out to others.

"I got involved because of my own injuries in combat," McCaslin said.

Overcoming the stigma of PTSD and encouraging people - especially children - to talk about their experiences is vital to recovery, he said.

"It's awesome to be a part of this," McCaslin said.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 1994 as a result of the tragic death of founder Bonnie Carroll's husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992.

"The support of command and (JBLM) families is heartwarming," Carroll said. "Without that support, we couldn't do what we do."

TAPS has a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-959-8277 and a comprehensive Web site, with resources for the family and loved ones of the fallen, she said.

The culminating event of the "Good Grief Camp" was a balloon release by the children present.

Each helium-filled balloon had a love note to the deceased family member tied to it and as the children let go, the balloons rose towards the heavens carrying aloft their messages of caring.

Rick Wood is a reporter with the Northwest Guardian, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord weekly newspaper.