The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors held its 2014 TAPS Honor Guard Gala celebrating its 20th anniversary March 27 at the National Building Museum. More than 100 family members who lost loved ones serving in the Armed Forces were in the crowd of more than 800 attendees.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered a keynote address for the event, which is in its seventh year.
The Senator Ted Stevens Leadership Award was presented to Nicki Bunting, a military widow who lives in the Washington, D.C. area and advocates for families of fallen troops. Bunting is the surviving spouse of Army Capt. Brian “Bubba” Bunting, who was killed in action in 2009 in Afghanistan. Bunting found out she was pregnant with their second child days after he died, and founded a Maryland race to honor her husband’s legacy only months later. Presenting the award was Lisa Dolan, a prior recipient. Dolan’s husband, Navy Capt. Tom Dolan Jr., died Sept. 11, 2001 at the Pentagon.
The TAPS Engaged Philanthropist Award was presented to Ted Leonsis, founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns and operates the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics and Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C. The partnership also operates Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the George Mason University Patriot Center. The award was presented by Lauren, 15, Justin, 12, and Hope Stubenhofer, 10, the children of Army Capt. Mark Stubenhofer, who was killed in action in 2004 in Iraq.
The TAPS Honor Guard Gala Congressional Award was presented to Congressman Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. The nine-term Congressman has served on the committee since 1997 as a strong advocate for military personnel and their families. The award was presented by Gabriel Rao, brother of Army Sgt. Elijah Rao, who was killed in action in 2009 in Afghanistan.
The TAPS Honor Guard Gala Military Award was presented to Air Force General Mark A. Welsh III, chief of staff of the Air Force. He serves as the senior uniformed Air Force officer responsible for the training and equipping of 690,000 active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces serving in the United States and overseas. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general and other service chiefs function as military advisers to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Council and President Obama. The award was presented by Cameron Santos-Silva, 15, son of Army Sergeant First Class Carlos Santos-Silva, who was killed in action in 2010 in Afghanistan.
A special, 20th anniversary presentation highlighted 20 people assisted by TAPS, representing the more than 44,000 surviving family members and their caregivers TAPS has assisted since its founding in 1994. Military widow Bonnie Carroll founded the organization in 1994 following the death of her husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, who died in a military plane crash in 1992 in Alaska.
CNN journalist Kyra Phillips and FOX News correspondent John Roberts emceed the event. Rebecca Morrison, surviving spouse of Army Capt. Ian Morrison, who died by suicide in 2012, sang the national anthem and God Bless America. Doug Windley, an Army chaplain and TAPS staff member, delivered the invocation.
TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups, and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge.