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Gold Star families learn to cope with loss

TAPS hosts Good Grief Camp and Survivor Seminar

TAPS mentor Baillie Locke interacts with a Gold Star military kid as part of the organization’s Good Grief Camp at JBLM Jan. 9. Courtesy photo

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When a servicemember dies, it's not just the death of a warrior. It's the death of someone's child, parent or sibling.

Over the weekend, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) hosted families of America's fallen military members at its TAPS Joint Base Lewis-McChord Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for a "weekend of healing." The organization hosted 130 surviving family members to an event that taught coping skills and helped family members connect with others grieving similar losses.

"As we enter a new year, grief can isolate surviving military families. The world is changing and moving on around us while we continue to cope with loss and grief," said TAPS President and Founder Bonnie Carroll in a press release about the event. "By connecting with others who understand, surviving parents, spouses, children and siblings can learn we aren't alone and take comfort in sharing the journey in 2016."

Carrol, a veteran herself, founded TAPS after the death of her husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll. He died in an Army C-12 plane crash Nov. 12, 1992.

She went on to serve in Iraq as Deputy Senior Advisor for Programs in the Ministry of Communications, and has continued to stay deeply involved with the organization she founded. Last year, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient, the country's highest civilian honor, for her service and continuing work with military families.

"I cannot speak highly enough about TAPs; it's a truly wonderful organization," said Baillie Locke, a soldier at JBLM who volunteers as a mentor with the organization. "I think what really sets TAPS apart from anything else I've experienced is the depth of resources and support that they have for survivors."

Locke joined after hearing stories about the organization from her husband Robert Davis, another soldier who began volunteering with TAPS at a previous duty station. They both took part in the JBLM event as mentors with the Good Grief Camp with military kids who'd lost their parents.

Surviving children in attendance were all paired one-on-one with active-duty or recently separated military mentors for the weekend.

Locke said that having military members work with the families is important, particularly for the children of the fallen. "It keeps them within that military family and I think that's a really key connection for the youth to see how much the military still loves them and how there's organizations that are able to support them through their loss," she explained.

The weekend included a wide range of workshops and seminars, and culminated in a family dinner Saturday night. The weekend ended with a TAPS family outing Sunday as families went bowling together and to build on relationships formed on the weekend.

Locke praised the organization's wide range of serves from 24-7 support lines, a plethora of support groups, and a huge network of volunteers and programs. "It brings everyone - these family members together who may come from different parts of the country or different backgrounds, but share in something that's impacted them and helps them support each other."

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