By Samantha B. Koss, Fort CarsonMay 7, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. (May 7, 2012) -- When Russel Hicks' son became an American hero, May 2, 2008, he knew of a few ways to deal with the loss.
"I could have crawled into a bottle of whiskey and not come out," Hicks said during the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivor's seminar at the Elkhorn Conference Center, here, April 28. "Instead, I decided to direct (the grief) in a more positive way."
Hicks and his wife, Shannon Hicks, have attended the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, known as TAPS, seminar at Fort Carson every year for grief support since their son, Pfc. Corey L. Hicks, was killed in Iraq while assigned to 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, in 2008. Corey Hicks joined the Army August 2007 and deployed soon after basic and advanced individual training.
"TAPS means the world to us," Russel Hicks said. "You learn a lot, you share a lot, and we come away from it with a little more each year."
TAPS offers tragedy assistance for anyone who has suffered the loss of a military loved one, regardless of the relationship to the deceased or the circumstance of the death.
"When I leave here I feel more empowered," Shannon Hicks said. "TAPS gives us an opportunity to be around other people who can relate to what we are going through."
The program provides peer-based support, crisis care, casualty casework assistance and grief and trauma resources.
"We are here to help each other find healing," said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder and president. "TAPS offers families a place to talk about their feelings and teach them how to cope with those feelings."
Carroll established the program in 1994 when she saw a lack of tragedy support in the military after she lost her husband, an Army National Guard brigadier general, in a plane crash.
"I spent two years finding gaps in the system," Carroll said. "We needed a support network for the surviving families of those who have died in service to America."
Now there are 30 TAPS seminars each year all over the country. Regional gatherings happen annually at Fort Carson.
The TAPS seminar began with an opening ceremony followed by a Good Grief Camp for children and teens, and group grief support for adults to explore coping strategies.
"The grief camp for the kids is incredible," Shannon Hicks said. "The little ones don't have the coping skills like we do as adults."
Every child receives a military mentor for the weekend from Fort Carson. This mentor helps teach them how to handle their emotions, Carroll said.
"We give the children a safe place where they can talk about their loss in their own language where they can talk to other kids their own age and normalize what they feel," Carroll said.
The Hicks family, along with many other families in the western region, traveled from the surrounding states to receive healing for their loss.
"We can't thank (Bonnie Carroll) enough for starting this program," Russel Hicks said. "She touches a lot of hearts."