Friday, February 24, 2012

TAPS Retreat Offers Comfort, Hope for Grieving Widows

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KEY LARGO, Fla., Feb. 24, 2012 – Vicki Terrell looked out at the turquoise Gulf of Mexico, remembering happy days when she and her husband, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Terrell, frolicked on their live-aboard powerboat and set anchor in the Florida Keys.

Terrell returned here this week to relive some of those memories – this time without her soulmate, who died serving as a contractor in Afghanistan in June 2010.

But she wasn’t alone. Terrell joined 37 other military widows and fiancees at a four-day retreat sponsored by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors to help them work their way through the grieving process.

From the moment she arrived here Feb. 21, Terrell said, she felt a deep connection to the other participants. “I feel like I’ve known these women half my life,” she said.

And by sitting with them -- and sharing their deeply personal stories between dips in the surf, a parasailing ride and even a parachute jump with the Army’s Golden Knights -- Terrell said she came to a realization she simply couldn’t grasp back home in Forsyth, Mo. “I’m not the only one going through this, who sometimes struggles to put one foot in front of the other,” she said.

Bonnie Carroll founded TAPS in 1994 to provide comfort and care to grieving military families after her own husband, Army Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, was killed in a military plane crash in Alaska. The program provides a long list of comprehensive services and programs, including regional survivor seminars, Good Grief camps for children and nine retreats each year – three for widows, widowers and significant others; three for parents and three for siblings.

The retreats provide participants a time to relax and meet other survivors for fellowship, sharing and fun, Carroll explained, while embracing the theme: “Remember the love, celebrate the love and share the journey.”

Widows and fiancees at this week’s retreat, each wearing a button with her loved one’s photo, talked freely about the men they lost – not just the circumstances that cut their lives short, but about what made them special, Carroll said. “They get an opportunity to share their dreams and hopes here with complete acceptance,” she said.

In the process, Carroll said, they come to accept that although death ended a life, it didn’t end a special relationship. “All that love and joy still exists, and this retreat offers a chance for them to experience that joy in an accepting environment,” she said.

TAPS has been particularly busy during the past 10 years of conflict, but Carroll emphasized that it serves all military families, regardless of how, where or when their loved one died.

Gloria Baker said she takes particular strength from the acceptance and support she has found through TAPS. Her husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Kyle Baker, returned from Afghanistan with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and ultimately took his own life in December 2010. TAPS has helped her come to terms with her loss, she said, and to understand there’s no shame in how he died. “He was a hero who could never fully come back” from his combat experience, she said.

To honor his memory and the sense of adventure he embodied, Baker went parasailing this week and laid plans to jump with the Golden Knights to commemorate what would have been his 37th birthday today.

“This is his present to me,” she said of the retreat. “And what I have found here lets me know that I’m not alone, because there is a connection and a bond between all military widows.”

Tears still come easily for Baker and most of the TAPs participants, followed by a touch, a hug or a knowing smile from another widow as the moment passes.

The outreach has been a great source of comfort for Sandra Talamantez, whose husband, Army Sgt. Steven Talamantez, was killed in Iraq in July 2011. Talamantez admits she’s just now starting to “come out of the fog” that immediately descended on her, and that she still struggles to avoid using the word “we” in her conversations, rather than simply “I.”

But seven months after his death, Talamantez said, she senses that her well-meaning friends are getting tired of hearing her talk about what she had, what she lost and how she’s struggling to move forward. Only her mother-in-law, who shares her deep, heart-stabbing sense of loss, seemed to truly understand, she said.

But through a “girls night out” dinner with other military widows near her home in Texas and this week’s retreat, Talamantez said, she’s found that despite their different circumstances, they all share a special bond.

Donna Shannon, whose husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Shannon, died of a heart attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2010, said TAPS has given her a lifeline to cling to as she focuses on healing.

“It gives me an opportunity to meet other women who, without words, know how I feel,” she said. “What I love about TAPS is that you can be smiling one minute, then boo-hooing the next minute, and then there is laughter again.”

Shannon said she finds comfort talking with other widows who have endured the same pain she feels and moved forward. “It gives me hope,” she said. “It helps me realize that I can go on, and really helps smooth the path that’s been thrust on me.”

Eleven years after her husband of just five weeks, Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Sheaffer, was killed in a military parachute training accident, Terri Starliper has dedicated herself to helping other military widows navigate that path. She leads a support group in Northern Virginia and is serving as a volunteer group co-leader at the TAPS retreat.

Starliper said she’s indebted to Carroll for the healing support she provided and the brave example she set. “I told myself, if she was able to get through this, then I can do this, too,” she said.

“So for me, this is giving back,” she added. “It’s a way for me to take what was really bad and awful for me and to try to make it a little easier for someone else.”

Along the way, Starliper said, she continues to heal while keeping her husband’s memory alive in a way that helps others.

This week, she planned to mark a big step in her own personal journey through a tandem jump with the Golden Knights. She knows it will be a highly emotional experience – bringing back memories of the jump she made with her husband – but she said she’s ready. “So even after all this time, there is still healing that goes on here,” she said.

Ultimately, Starliper said, knowing that their loved ones won’t be forgotten is one of the greatest sources of comfort for military widows. “When you think about these men, you are talking about really amazing people who touched lives and made a difference,” she said. “They were among the best.”

Starliper said she hopes participants in the TAPS retreat will return to their homes a little stronger for their experience on the beaches of Key Largo.

“Not only are they making new friends and a new support network, but they’ll be able to take bits and pieces of what they’ve learned here from each person and apply them to help them along their own journey,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing, the healing that goes on here.”

Wilson to Retire as DOD Public Affairs Chief

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON  – The Pentagon’s top public affairs official will retire at the end of March.

“At the end of the year, I really thought it was time to get off the merry-go-round for a break,” said Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. “You reach a point where you have to say you need to get a break. I need to recharge and look forward again to serving the country in another way.

“I’m very proud of what this administration has accomplished in national security,” he continued. “I take great pride in the office, and … we have a great team of people.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called Wilson a “valued member” of his senior leadership team who “has provided extremely wise counsel on a full range of public affairs issues confronting the department.”

“He has been a trusted advisor,” the secretary added.

Panetta said he will miss the “insights, energy and commitment [Wilson] consistently demonstrates to our men and women in uniform.”

Wilson has served in his position for two years. During the Clinton administration, he served as deputy assistant secretary of defense, and he was principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs from 1991 to 2001.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said he will miss Wilson and thanked him for his support. “He has exhibited a great deal of patience with me,” he said.

The administration will announce a nominee for Wilson’s successor soon, officials said. The Senate must confirm the nomination.

USS Dallas Welcomes New Commander

By Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Cragg, Commander, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700) held a change of command ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base New London's chapel in Groton Feb. 23.

Cmdr. Jack Houdeshell relieved Cmdr. Rich Arnold during the time-honored ceremony.

"It's been a real honor to serve on Dallas for these last two and a half years," said Arnold. "It's a great ship with a talented and dedicated crew. This is the best crew I have ever worked with. Their dedication to the nation, the ship and each other is inspiring. They have far exceeded all of my expectations."

During Arnold's tour as commanding officer aboard Dallas from August 2009 to February 2012, he improved every aspect of his ship, instilled a warrior's mentality and improved the esprit de corps throughout his crew. During this time, Dallas conducted a six-month deployment to the Central Command area of responsibility returning to Groton in December 2011.

Arnold was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his leadership and achievements while in command.

"Commanding his ship with clear vision and enthusiastic leadership, Cmdr. Arnold completely transformed his officers and crew into a highly functional, mission-oriented team of warfighters whose performance culminated in a highly successful six-month deployment to the Central Command area of responsibility," said Rear Adm. Rick Breckenridge, commander, Submarine Group 2.

Arnold also received praise for the submarine's involvement with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group during Exercise Bold Alligator 2012.

"Your support of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group during Bold Alligator 2012 was exceptional," said Vice Adm. John Richardson, commander, Submarine Forces Atlantic in a naval message praising Arnold for his achievements. "A major step forward for SSN participation in strike group certifications."

Prior to reporting as commanding officer of Dallas, Houdeshell, a native of Iowa, served on the headquarters staff of U.S. Joint Forces Command in the Intelligence Directorate from June 2009 until May 2011.

Houdeshell discussed his excitement for the way ahead for the Los Angeles-attack submarine and its crew.

"Dallas is a great ship with a great crew. I look forward to continuing where Cmdr. Arnold has left off and taking her to sea in defense of our great country," said Houdeshell.

Houdeshell reflected on his opportunity to command USS Dallas and what it takes to reach this pinnacle in someone's naval career.

"It takes a long time to get to command. Getting the opportunity to lead a great ship like Dallas just makes the time well worth the effort," said Houdeshell. "Dallas is a great ship with a great crew."

Houdeshell also thanked the submarine's namesake city for their continued support of the submarine.

"I look forward to continuing the good relations that the Dallas has maintained with its namesake, city of Dallas, Texas," said Houdeshell.

Dallas is the first United States naval ship to bear the name of the city of Dallas, Texas. Dallas is a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine of the Los Angeles-class built by Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation.

CNO to Naples Sailors: Europe and Africa Remain Vital

By Lt. Timothy Hawkins, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia Public Affairs

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert reaffirmed the Navy's commitment in the European and African regions during an all-hands call at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples, Italy, Feb. 23.

Addressing more than 300 U.S. military and civilian personnel seated in the installation's Capodichino theater, Greenert said the growing numbers of ships operating forward in the Mediterranean is an indication of the region's continued significance.

"What you're doing out here is incredibly important. The only place we're moving any large surface combatants to, is Europe," said Greenert.

Four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers will be forward deployed to Rota, Spain; USS Ross (DDG 71) and USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) in fiscal year 2014 and USS Porter (DDG 78) and USS Carney (DDG 64) in fiscal year 2015.

The multi-mission ships will perform a myriad of tasks, including the full spectrum of maritime security operations, bilateral and multilateral training exercises, NATO operations and deployments, and NATO missile defense.

"We are committed to NATO and its operations," said Greenert. "This area will be as important as it always has been in our future maritime strategy."

Yeoman 2nd Class Carloeric Calibo from Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest (EURAFSWA) appreciated Greenert's discussion on a number of topics ranging from the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) process to education benefits and compensation issues.

"CNO gave me clearer perspective on where we're going to be in the near future as a Navy," said Calibo immediately following the all-hands call. "I had particular concerns about the ERB process that CNO addressed very clearly."

Greenert responded to a series of questions from both U.S. military and civilian employees in the audience before concluding the hour-long call.

"I appreciate the fact that CNO took into consideration answering questions and listening to the civilian personnel, not just military," said Jerica Fayall, an accountant for U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and U.S. 6th Fleet.

Before departing, Greenert thanked Naples-area Sailors and civilian employees for their service.

"Thanks for what you do. Take care of the families. They are the wind under the wings for those of us who serve," said Greenert.

NSA Naples is home to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa; U.S. 6th Fleet; Navy Region EURAFSWA; Naval Facilities EURAFSWA; other tenant commands and U.S. personnel assigned to NATO.