FORT HOOD — More than 250 bereaved families of fallen U.S. military service members attended the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Good Grief Camp on Saturday.
The Southern Regional Conference, which ends today, focuses on healing while also sharing experiences about their loss.
Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder and 2015 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said the gathering is similar to a family reunion.
“I know none of us wanted this to be a part of our lives on a Saturday morning. But wow is it grateful to have this family,” she said to the audience.
Carroll founded TAPS following the death of her husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, who died in an Army C-12 plane crash on Nov. 12, 1992.
She said there was no organization like TAPS, hence her starting the program.
This is TAPS’ 11th year holding the event at Fort Hood, 25 years total for the program
Aimee Wriglesworth was in attendance on Saturday. The mom of one lost her husband, Chad, in 2013 from cancer, likely caused by exposure to burn pits while serving in Iraq.
“Three months after my husband’s death I was suicidal and I was searching on the internet for some kind of 24-hour hotline for grief. I called a number, it had to be about 11 o’clock at night, the woman on the other line was Bonnie and she knew of my husband. She and TAPS saved my life. This is my family,” Wriglesworth said.
It wasn’t just adults that attended the seminar.
The Good Grief Camp is geared toward the children of fallen service members. The youngsters are paired with mentors who, through conversation and activities, help cope with the loss.
Kimberly Taylor, a surviving fiancee of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Josh Rath, oversees the youth program.
U.S. Army soldier Pvt. 2 Zacharian Schade was a mentor during the weekend long conference. He said he once was a participant himself as he lost his father when he was 10.
Schade was paired on Saturday with 6-year-old Daniel Morelock, who lost his father four years ago.
The agenda had various workshop topics such as Continuing Conversation with Your Kids and Finding the Right Words, a poetry workshop.
Erin Jacobson, TAPS senior adviser of outreach and engagement and surviving fiancee of U.S. Army Ranger Cpl. Jason Kessler, led the writing seminar.
“They chose us to love and we help continue their legacies by telling their stories,” Jacobson said. “We lost our hearts and TAPS helps mend them.”
Since 1994, TAPS has offered support to more than 85,000 survivors of fallen military in the form of peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children. Services are provided free of charge.
For more information visit www.taps.org or call 1-800-959-TAPS (8277).
More on this story in Wednesday’s Fort Hood Herald.