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SEA Whitehead Honors Families of the Fallen

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena,
  • National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, honored surviving military families May 26-29 during a Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors event.

“There are those [military members] that served our country, those that loved you, those that you loved, and now they are gone. What is important is what they left in you,” said Whitehead during the 29th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar.

The seminar welcomes hundreds of surviving military families to the nation’s capital over Memorial Day weekend every year. It offers a Good Grief Camp for children and workshops for grieving adults and provides opportunities for surviving family members to remember the life and legacy of their fallen loved ones, regardless of the circumstances of their death.

“During Memorial Day weekend, we talk about our military members that died, whether it was in battle or as a result of injuries from battle,” said Whitehead. “In this room, we have those that lost a loved one fighting for our country, and we have people who are dealing with loss from suicide or health issues from people that served honorably. We have young folks in the room who want to sit with their mentor or get a hug because they miss mom or dad. And that’s OK.”

Over the four-day event, Whitehead heard stories from parents, grandparents and siblings about the program’s impact on their grief journey, and he helped congratulate graduating high school seniors as they walked across the stage. 

Memorial Day is considered the unofficial beginning of summer and the end of the school year. Students at the weekend seminar marked their achievements by walking the stage in the presence of their TAPS community.

“There has been an investment made for the future of people that will be a part of this for years and years to come,” said Whitehead. “When you have young people who would rather spend time here, they understand the importance of TAPS and will take it to the next level.”

Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS, exchanged a memorandum of understanding for the Guard. 

Taking care of people, including National Guard families, is one of Hokanson’s top priorities. TAPS is one of the partnering programs of the NGB J1-Warrior Resilience and Fitness Division, connecting National Guard members and families with support programs.

Whitehead, who advises Hokanson on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization and the force’s health, said programs like TAPS enhance the Guard’s efforts to take care of people and show families the military is still a part of their life, even after the loss of their military member.

“On behalf of Gen. Hokanson and myself, we represent over 440,000 Soldiers and Airmen in our National Guard,” said Whitehead. “Right now, we’ve got about 44,000 spread out across the Southwest Border, Central Command, European Command and in your cities, just doing what we do to protect our country. We support the things you do because we are [so grateful] for the support you give to our Guard families and communities.”

Carroll started the organization in 1994 following the death of her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, the assistant adjutant general of the Alaska Army National Guard, in an Army C-12 crash two years earlier. Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort, care and resources to members of the TAPS family grieving the death of a military loved one through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources.

“This is our safe space,” said Carroll. “This is our opportunity to come together as families of America’s fallen heroes, as the living legacies of service and sacrifice to support each other and create community —to know that we are not alone and that while our loved one served and died, their stories do not end.”