Monday, April 21, 2008

Washington Social Diary

Patriotic red, white and blue prevailed in the table dressing, settings, food and flowers at TAPS Honor Guard Gala.
By Carol Joynt

On Veterans Day we attended a gala black-tie dinner at the Kennedy Center that honored the Iraq and Afghanistan military war wounded who reside at Walter Reed Army Hospital. It was a fundraiser for CAUSE, an all-volunteer organization of mostly military veterans who do whatever they can to support the soldiers, and the families of the soldiers, whose wounds range from subtle to devastating. It was a sad and moving evening, with some patients and many military brass in the room. For these kinds of events, the generals and admirals always show up.

Supporting the collateral damage of the war, though, is work that is never done.

There are the wounded, and then there are those who don’t leave the war alive. Since the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, more than 4,000 American soldiers have returned home from Iraq in caskets, and another almost 500 from Afghanistan, leaving their parents, siblings, spouses and children to face an absolute loss and an uncertain future. The numbers are daunting. Family members who have lost a loved one: 45,280. Spouses who have lost a mate: 1,811. An estimated 3,000 children have lost a parent in the war. And the numbers continue to climb.
The words of Harry S Truman resonate as TAPS mandate.
The wrist band worn by Ami Neiberger-Miller to remember her brother, Christopher.
These families, too, have an organization that looks out for their interests. It’s called TAPS, for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, started by a military widow, Bonnie Carroll, a major in the Air Force reserves who served in Baghdad in a non-military role. The mandate she gave the group is all encompassing: “provide peer support, grief and trauma resources and information, casualty casework assistance and crisis intervention for all those affected by the death of a loved one serving in the armed forces.”

So far, TAPS has assisted more than 25,000 surviving family members, an effort that doesn’t happen without funding and general support. For the past several years, their annual fundraiser was a luncheon, but this week they stepped up and hosted an “inaugural” TAPS Honor Guard Gala in one of Washington’s grandest party rooms – the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.
The view of the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium at the “inaugural” TAPS Honor Guard Gala.
The turn-out was 400 strong, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, Marine Commandant Jim Conway, many other military officials, corporate donors and TAPS supporters. The special guests were 40 family members who lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On the stage with Bonnie when she welcomed the guests over cocktails were two children, Jack May and Taylor Heldt, who each lost a father in Iraq. Jack stood at attention in a replica of his father’s Marine uniform.

The faces of loss: Jack May lost his father in Iraq and wears a replica of his uniform; TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll, lost her husband; Taylor Heldt lost her father.
Taylor was designated to present the organization’s 2008 Honor Guard Congressional Award to Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO).

Mullen, the evening’s keynote speaker, presented an award called the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service to author, actor and comedian Ben Stein. According to TAPS, Stein speaks at grief camps and seminars, visits military families who have lost a loved one, and donated to TAPS the proceeds of his book, “The Real Stars: In Today’s America Who are The True Heroes?”

Among those at the dinner were Lt. Gen. John and Jan Bradley, chief of the Air Force Reserves, Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph and Diana Campa, Coast Guard Master Chief Petty Officer Charles and Janet Bowen, Lt. Gen. John and Wanda Castellaw, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Richard and Vicki Cody, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier, Maj. Gen. Galen and Cathy Jackman, Admiral Edmund and Cathy Giambastiani, Rear Adm. Richard Jeffries, Lt. Gen. Richard and Gail Kramlich, Deborah Mullen, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Gen. Richard and Mary Jo Myers, Kyra Phillips, and Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho.

Others at the dinner were Morgan McKenty, Susie Blum, Dennis Carel, Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, Fred Wahl, Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis, Nikki Matthews, Steve Matthews, Scott Klein, Judy Hickey, David Jefferson, Howard Lind, Annie O’Toole, Melissa, Kiloszar, Gillian, Jaeger, Mike Shupps, Marie Guadalupe Wissel, Rep. John and Deborah Dingell, Beth Belle, Lt. Col. Douglas Ollivant, Jackie Getz, Brandon Millett, and Susan Fallon.
Marine Maj. Mike Olness and Col. Dave Anderson of the Air Force.
One of the honorees, columnist and comedian Ben Stein, was the center of attention at cocktails.
Marine Brig. General Dave Papak, retired Marine Col. Tom Manion, Matt Kaye, president and CEO of EOD Technology, and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Jan Huly.
Maj. General Frank Gorenc.
Retired Army infantry officer Scott Rutter, Lou Lehrman, and TAPS executive Dan Sudnick, a retired Navy captain.
Joan Feisthamel of Texas with sister, Carol Lane of Vermont, who lost her son in a military training accident in North Carolina.
Mary Carstensen, Al Giambone, and Seileen Mullen Murphy.
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips with Earl Hailston.
Navy Lt. (ret.) Kraig Siracuse and Bill Cahill.
Carol Lane, Yolanda Acevedo, Courtney Nyren, and Fernando Blanco.
Col. Loree Sutton, Roberto Gonzalez, and Judy Yoder.
John Morris and TAPS volunteer Lynne Schneider.
USO president Elaine Rogers with Annette Conway, wife of the Marine Commandant.
Army Col. (ret) Ray Horoho, Army Col. Patty Horoho, and Admiral Adam Robinson, the Navy's surgeon general.
Hands over hearts during the National Anthem.
Anne Wendell of TriWest Healthcare Alliance, the gala's sponsor, with Marine Commandant Jim Conway.
Julie Adler, Elyse O'Brien, and Cassie Zemel.
Lynne Hamilton with Sharon Duke.
TAPS public relations consultant Ami Neiberger-Miller and her husand, Rick. Ami's brother was killed in Iraq last August.
Mike Warlick, Navy MCPON Joe Campa and wife, Diana Campa.
Carol Joynt is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.