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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rolling Thunder and more at TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) this Memorial Day.

There were about 100 Rolling Thunder cyclists paying an annual visit to the TAPS weekend in Arlington, VA this Memorial Day... and sadly, about 2500 adults and children who wished they weren't qualified to be there.

They are some of the families who have recently lost a loved one in service of our country.

This was our fourth visit as representatives of HOPE Animal- Assisted Crises Response. HOPE had five dog/handler teams invited to help bring comfort to those many suffering the ultimate loss of a loved one in war-related conflicts.

From Friday through Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend, the dogs were on duty to do what they do best... and as usual, the outpouring of love and comfort and calm was welcomed by almost all attending.

This was the 20th anniversary of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a privately funded organization for those suffering a military loss. There were surviving husbands, wives, children, parents, siblings, partners, fiances and other related persons who have this opportunity to share, learn, remember and begin to heal thanks to benevolent corporate sponsors who recognize the need to do something special for the families of those who gave everything for their country.

There were programs and functions for all. For the 1200 children, there was a Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors with age-appropriate activities and sessions for all ages as well as infant and toddler care as required. Each youngster had a mentor (many were military volunteers from the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va) who were with their charges during the day activities when their parent was involved in other sessions and gatherings.

Adult workshops included Proactive Grieving, Turning Hurt into Hope, Dealing with Family after a Sibling Loss, Finding Hope as the Journey Continues, Surviving the Loss of a Child, and dozens more to give you an idea of the help available. Other activities included busses to Arlington National Cemetary, The Mall, a Tour of Washington and The Smithsonian Institution.

There are gatherings and meetings and food and reflection as well as many organizations set up to help with some of the needs of those who find themselves in this position. Speakers at some of the sessions have included Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as notables in areas of relevance to the group. Michelle Obama and The Bidens were scheduled to be with the TAPS group in ceremonies on the Mall on Memorial Day.

The messages in art murals and on the many chalkboards around the large hotel upper lobby by the children and adults were more touching than can be described here. The finale was a massive balloon release by the young people... thousands of balloons each with a personal message to the missing loved one.

They will never forget. Never. Nor should we.

The HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response mission is to provide comfort dog support to individuals affected by crises and disasters. There are presently about 300 dog-handler teams and team leaders across the United States. HOPE working dogs have recently been actively involved in the wildfires in the west, the Washington mudslides, the DC Naval Yard shooting and whenever and wherever such need calls. More at www.HOPEAACR.org .


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