04/11/2011 01:22 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2011

Military Wife Provides Support To Families Of The Fallen

In 1992, Bonnie Carroll's life stopped.

That was the year her husband, Tom, a commanding officer for the Alaska Army National Guard, was killed along with seven other officers in an Army C-12 King Air plane crash.

"I thought I had the training and understanding to handle this, to really step up and help my family and other families affected," Bonnie said. "But it quickly became apparent that this was far beyond what I could cope with myself."

Bonnie did have extensive training in military and government work. She was a reserve officer in the Air National Guard and the Air Force, and served as an Executive Assistant for Cabinet Affairs during Ronald Reagan's presidency, insuring that the president's agenda was implemented and carried out effectively.

But after the death of her husband, Bonnie felt powerless, and her training couldn't help her. "I assumed that a grief-support network would exist for military families, since they'd had so many losses over the course of our nation's history," Bonnie remembered.

Shockingly, however, she found that despite some organizations that assisted military families on financial matters, no real support network existed for families affected by the loss of their loved ones. "I wanted to create a peer-based emotional support network for people affected by this unique situation," Bonnie said.

So she conducted extensive research for over two years, attempting to fill the gaps between the services already provided and the care that was needed to deal with this kind of grief. She found long-lasting allies in government, including Senator Ted Stevens, who was instrumental early on. Finally, in 1994, she launched the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

Today, TAPS provides comfort and care to military families through four avenues: emotional support, case work assistance, crisis intervention, and a 24-hour helpline. Between 60 and 80 people contact the helpline each day, and all 42 members of the TAPS staff are either military survivors or family members of fallen soldiers.

TAPS staff member, Ami Neiberger-Miller, remembers when she first found TAPS. After her brother was killed in Baghdad, she felt overwhelmed and called TAPS for help. "They put me in touch with another sister who'd lost her brother. It turned out her brother was also buried Section 60 at Arlington -- the same place my brother was buried."

A few years later, Ami called Bonnie and offered some part-time help before their Memorial Day events. Bonnie offered Ami a better proposition-- full-time job in the Public Affairs department of TAPS. "She brought me into her office, gave me a hug and said, 'we're here for you, we're so sorry about what happened with your brother and we're so touched you wanted to help us.'"

The organization runs countless events each year all over the United States, including the Good Grief Camps, which provide an opportunity for children who've lost their parents to come together and meet kids their own age. They're also connected with mentors in the armed forces who provide them with coping skills and support.

On April 5, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined TAPS at their Honor Guard Gala.

"We need to keep pushing the envelope of support for the families of the fallen in ways that we often times haven't thought about," he said at the event.

Bonnie works to further that goal each day.

This story is part of Military Families Week, an effort by HuffPost and AOL to put a spotlight on issues affecting America's families who serve. Find more at and