CRYSTAL CITY, Va. –
More than 300 families of members who have lost loved ones serving in the military gathered in Crystal City, Virginia, this Memorial Day weekend to find healing and work through their grief.
Together, they participated in the 22nd Annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp hosted by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).
“On behalf of a grateful nation,” are the words every military family of a fallen service member hears when presented a folded flag. Those words stood as the main theme to this year’s camp.
TAPS is a nonprofit organization that provides support to families who have lost members in the service. Bonnie Carol, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, founded TAPS after her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in Alaska in 1992.
The Good Grief Camp focuses on helping children ages 4 to 18. This 3-day camp provides a safe space for the kids to work one-on-one with a mentor who has severed or is currently serving. The children and their mentors spend the weekend playing games, crafting mementos for their loved ones, and socializing with peers who may be dealing with similar losses.
Spc. Solomon Omboto, a wheeled mechanic from the 21st Military Police Company from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said, “[Service members] come and actually fill the gap that is missing for these kids.”
Spc. Omboto was one of 22 Soldiers from the military police company to spend Memorial Day volunteering with TAPS. The company is known for their selfless service and dedication to this nation. In November 2015 they were awarded the Brigadier General Jeremiah P. Holland Award for being the best military police unit in the entire Army.
“This is an opportunity to pay it forward to that individual when they gave everything for you,” said Capt. Adam Herring, company commander of the 21st MP Co. “I would encourage other Soldiers to come because you’re helping out someone that gave that ultimate sacrifice.”
Victor Sutherland is a surviving son of Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Sutherland, who was killed in action in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2005. Victor was 13 years old when his father was killed. He started attending the TAPS Good Grief Camps and felt that they help him get through the tough times. He missed only one National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in the past 11 years.
When Victor turned 18 he had a choice to make: come back and participate in the adult seminars and workshops or come back and become a mentor to another child going through the same grief he went through. He chose to become a mentor.
“I felt that the Good Grief camp had given me a lot of good coping mechanisms and good tools to say that I don’t need to come back and attend adult workshops,” he said.
Throughout the years, Victor had multiple mentors from all branches of service.
“It doesn’t matter if they are Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force. You wouldn’t be able to tell it unless they had that ribbon on their name tag,” he said. “We are one team … I think that’s the one requirement of a mentor.”