FORT HOOD — More than 300 red, white and blue balloons with the names of fallen soldiers written on them floated through the sky Saturday outside the Spirit of Fort Hood Chapel.

The balloon release, which was followed by a slideshow of the fallen soldiers, marked the end of a two-day grief camp for children, spouses and parents of loved ones who were killed in action or died stateside.

It’s the fifth year the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors hosted the event at Fort Hood. The national nonprofit provides peer-based emotional support for anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one who served in the military.

“When they first start off, they share their story of who they lost and how long it’s been,” said Sheri Beck, director of TAPS’ survivor care team. “They connect with one another by hearing (other) stories and realizing it’s a safe place for them and that everyone’s been in a similar situation.”

While parents connected with other adults going through similar loss, children were paired with an active-duty soldier, who served as their mentors.

“I viewed it as a way to give back to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said 1st Lt. Jason Griffin, a 1st Cavalry Division soldier who volunteered as a mentor. “We are not the answer to their loss. We allow them to express their feelings and they can relate to us and know that when they talk, we’ll understand where they’re coming from.”

Leticia Aceves has been attending the camp with her four children since her husband, Staff Sgt. Omar Aceves, died Jan. 12, 2011, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device.

“They love coming and being with their mentors. It’s fun for them,” Aceves said. “I know most of (the other mothers) and enjoy meeting with the other wives.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at

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