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‘Tragedy Assistance’ or Ending the Tragedy?

January 25, 2009 

Near the end of this article it mentions the suicide of Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Stagner, who suffered from PTSD and was about to redeploy to on his fourth tour to Iraq. Very sad.  I didn’t know Brandon, but I know some of his family.  His father Ishmael Stagner is a respected kupuna in the Hawaiian community, and his sister Carmael worked with LGBTQ youth at the AFSC Hawai’i office.  This young man was another human sacrifice for bloodthirsty gods of war and empire.

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Group brings together grieving military families

A support group holds its first-ever event in Hawaii

Wearing the buttons with photos of fallen loved one, bereaved military families gathered yesterday in the first-ever Hawaii seminar for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS.

The program helps families of U.S. military service members who have died in the service of the country.

Yesterday, children wrote about lost loved ones in letters that were tied to balloons and released into the sky above Waikiki.

Bonnie Carroll, founder of the 15-year-old nationwide program, said she hopes to make grief seminars in Hawaii an annual event. Darcie Sims, national director of training, said Hawaii’s aloha spirit is conducive to the TAPS mission.

“There’s a natural warmth and openness here we sometimes don’t see on the mainland,” Sims said. “They’re very open to helping, and they’ve been so welcoming to us.”

- Gene Park

FULL STORY >>

By Gene Park

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 25, 2009

After Army Spc. Toby Olsen’s death in Iraq, his mother, Elisabeth Olsen, struggled to heal. Two years later she wants to help others who have also suffered the loss of a loved one in the military.

Olsen said she got help dealing with her grief from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a private organization created to help families of military service members who have died in the service of their country.

Olsen’s son, a Mililani High School graduate, died on Jan. 20, 2007, after an explosion hit his vehicle in Iraq.

She said TAPS is able to bring together people who are going through similar experiences.

“When you don’t have to say a word because you know you’re looking into the eyes of another mother, there’s a connection,” she said. “It’s a family you never wanted to join.”

Olsen said she discovered TAPS when attending the national remembrance ceremony for fallen troops in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday the group held its first grief seminar in Hawaii.

More than 50 people attended. Some were local families, like Olsen. Others came from the mainland, like Victor, N.Y., resident Andrea Ralyea.

Ralyea said her 3-year-old son started asking about his uncle, Army Sgt. Jonathan Lootens, who died in a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Oct. 16, 2006.

“I didn’t know how to answer those questions,” Ralyea said.

She got in touch with TAPS and attended a survivor seminar in Philadelphia. She came to the Hawaii seminar because Lootens was stationed at Schofield Barracks.

“I almost expect him to be here, but it’s nice to be able to be here and be where he was,” she said. “I find great comfort in it.”

Children and teenagers also spoke with counselors, who said that many of them never were able to vocalize their feelings before yesterday. The children wrote their feelings in letters which were tied to balloons and released outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where the seminar was held.

Hawaii is a great environment for TAPS, said Darcie Sims, TAPS national director of training. Sims has been with the group since 1995, one year after its inception.

“There’s a natural warmth and openness here we sometimes don’t see on the mainland,” Sims said. “They’re very open to helping, and they’ve been so welcoming to us.”

Sims said TAPS was borne out of necessity because self-help books and programs on grieving military families did not exist. Sims lost a brother during the Vietnam War, and her father to a nuclear weapons accident.

“Families did back then what they still do today, put one foot in front of the other,” Sims said. “We are literally a family organization, reaching out. When the checks have stopped, when the papers have been filed, this family is there.”

Olsen said she has volunteered to be a local point of contact for the organization, and hopes to make TAPS seminars a regular event for Hawaii.

TAPS has a telephone hot line manned at all hours, if family members need someone to talk to.

It is a valuable resource for newly grieving parents Ishmael and Carmen Stagner of Kaneohe.

Their son, Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon K. Stagner, committed suicide in November while stationed in Alaska, but before going on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. His parents said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We all think we’re John Wayne … but the fact of the matter is that it’s just a shell,” Ishmael Stagner said. “But maybe the heroes are also the ones who live and have to go on.”

After Army Spc. Toby Olsen’s death in Iraq, his mother, Elisabeth Olsen, struggled to heal. Two years later she wants to help others who have also suffered the loss of a loved one in the military.

Olsen said she got help dealing with her grief from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a private organization created to help families of military service members who have died in the service of their country.

Olsen’s son, a Mililani High School graduate, died on Jan. 20, 2007, after an explosion hit his vehicle in Iraq.

She said TAPS is able to bring together people who are going through similar experiences.

“When you don’t have to say a word because you know you’re looking into the eyes of another mother, there’s a connection,” she said. “It’s a family you never wanted to join.”

Olsen said she discovered TAPS when attending the national remembrance ceremony for fallen troops in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday the group held its first grief seminar in Hawaii.

More than 50 people attended. Some were local families, like Olsen. Others came from the mainland, like Victor, N.Y., resident Andrea Ralyea.

Ralyea said her 3-year-old son started asking about his uncle, Army Sgt. Jonathan Lootens, who died in a suicide bomb attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Oct. 16, 2006.

“I didn’t know how to answer those questions,” Ralyea said.

She got in touch with TAPS and attended a survivor seminar in Philadelphia. She came to the Hawaii seminar because Lootens was stationed at Schofield Barracks.

“I almost expect him to be here, but it’s nice to be able to be here and be where he was,” she said. “I find great comfort in it.”

Children and teenagers also spoke with counselors, who said that many of them never were able to vocalize their feelings before yesterday. The children wrote their feelings in letters which were tied to balloons and released outside the Hilton Hawaiian Village, where the seminar was held.

Hawaii is a great environment for TAPS, said Darcie Sims, TAPS national director of training. Sims has been with the group since 1995, one year after its inception.

“There’s a natural warmth and openness here we sometimes don’t see on the mainland,” Sims said. “They’re very open to helping, and they’ve been so welcoming to us.”

Sims said TAPS was borne out of necessity because self-help books and programs on grieving military families did not exist. Sims lost a brother during the Vietnam War, and her father to a nuclear weapons accident.

“Families did back then what they still do today, put one foot in front of the other,” Sims said. “We are literally a family organization, reaching out. When the checks have stopped, when the papers have been filed, this family is there.”

Olsen said she has volunteered to be a local point of contact for the organization, and hopes to make TAPS seminars a regular event for Hawaii.

TAPS has a telephone hot line manned at all hours, if family members need someone to talk to.

It is a valuable resource for newly grieving parents Ishmael and Carmen Stagner of Kaneohe.

Their son, Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon K. Stagner, committed suicide in November while stationed in Alaska, but before going on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. His parents said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We all think we’re John Wayne … but the fact of the matter is that it’s just a shell,” Ishmael Stagner said. “But maybe the heroes are also the ones who live and have to go on.”

Source: http://www.starbulletin.com/news/20090125_Group_brings_together_grieving_military_families.html?page=1&c=y