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April 19, 2012
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (April 19, 2012) -- The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors signifies all that is good about America, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here, Wednesday.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, known as TAPS, allows Americans to show their love and appreciation for the sacrifices military families make.

"We try, but we find ourselves inadequate to thank you for what you do," Dempsey said to the black-tie audience at the nonprofit organization's annual gala.

Bonnie Carroll founded the organization in 1994 after her Soldier husband and seven others were killed in a plane crash in Alaska. TAPS provides short- and long-term assistance to the families of military members who die.

The group looks to aid grieving family members. It holds "Good Grief" camps at many installations. The organization stresses long-term, peer-based support. It also helps with crisis response and intervention, casualty casework assistance and grief and trauma resources and information.

"This is an organization of a bunch of ordinary Americans and patriots, but they are extraordinary people," Dempsey said. "It's about living up to the bond of trust that we all feel -- and we should feel it, not just talk about it."

Dempsey said his aide, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Wisecup, told him on the way to the gala that people join the military for many reasons, but the decision to stay in the military comes along the way.

"Generally, we decide to stay in the military because we recognize that if something happens to us, there will be others like us to rally around us," Dempsey said.

It's not only men and women in uniform who rally around service members, the chairman said, but it's also members of Congress and regular Americans, "if we give them the chance."

"And TAPS does that," he added.

Dempsey told the audience about the inscription on a statue in the Antietam National Battlefield Cemetery. There were more than 23,000 American casualties at the Maryland battlefield on Sept. 17, 1862. The statue depicts a Union Army private, and the inscription says, "Not for themselves, but for their country."

TAPS has taken that sentiment aboard as well, but paraphrased it to "not for themselves, but for their families," Dempsey said. "Bonnie, and those of you associated with TAPS, I hope you feel as proud of what you do as we are of you."

The TAPS Honor Guard Gala raises funds to support the organization's programs, including peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, case work assistance and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the armed forces.

TAPS recognized Gen. James F. Amos, Marine Corps commandant, with the organization's Military Award. It also recognized U.S. Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington state with its Congressional Award.

Erin Gallagher received the Sen. Ted Stevens Leadership Award from the organization.

Gallagher, 18, lost her father, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. James Gallagher, to suicide in 2006. She has delivered speeches addressing suicide in the military, spoken with the media and supported other children and teens through TAPS who are grieving the death of a loved one who served in the military. Begun last year, the Stevens Award recognizes a surviving military family member who has reached out to help others.