Women Changing America: Bonnie Carroll Comforts Families Of American Heroes
November 11, 2011

A Hero To Military Families in need.

Bonnie Carroll knows what it’s like to kiss a beloved husband and soldier goodbye in the morning, and find out hours later that it was the last time her face would ever brush against his. In 1992, Bonnie Carroll lost the love of her life.  Brigadier General Tom Carroll, Commanding General of the Alaska Army National Guard, died on a routine military flight which ended with his Army C-12 light aircraft crashing into the side of an Alaskan

Married 5 Years Before Carroll's Life Was Lost

mountain ridge. Instead of allowing the devastating loss to paralyze her, Carroll turned the tragedy into an important new beginning. Bonnie Carroll took the lessons learned from becoming a military widow, and started TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, (http://www.taps.org/) to serve other spouses and loved ones like her, in their deepest time of need.

“My husband’s Chief of Staff told me the plane was missing – but was very reassuring – he was sure everything would be okay. When they found the wreckage and determined no survivors – it was devastating. (It was a small plane – equivalent in the civilian world to a Beechcraft King Air.)   My career had taken me from military service all the way to The White House and I knew a lot about community based groups and support groups. But in the military, and for the loved ones of lost soldiers, I couldn’t find anything. I spent two years researching all the existing services for bereaved families and discovered how many gaps there were. By coupling my government experience with a real knowledge of the need, I began to knock on doors. Many senior military officials listened to me, including then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. Before long TAPS was underway.” says Carroll.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

“A loss in the military is complex and complicated on many levels – surviving family members – particularly the young. Not only do they lose their husband and partner, they lose their entire community of support – all of a sudden they lose their home, circle of friends, they lose their own identity. Many don’t know this, but when you lose a military spouse, the living husband or wife is quickly issued a NEW kind of military i.d. card which instantly sets you apart from the family.”

Associated Press took a close look at the remarkable service of TAPS you can see it here.


Bonnie Carroll has led a life of fun, diverse, and character-building experiences which have prepared her to be a woman who leads. She was born in upstate New York in a little town called Millbrook. Her first love was horses. She even garnered an Equine Science degree which taught her handling of elite thoroughbred horses. She joined the Reserves in her mid-20’s and always had respect for those willing to defend the country.

Coming from a committed Republican family, Bonnie had long been interested in doing public service in Washington, D.C. Her first political appointment was as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. She went on to help lead the 1987 Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution Commission, and eventually worked her way up to being an important member of President Reagan’s staff. She served as Executive Secretary to the Cabinet.

“My goal has always been to create something that would serve ALL those who have lost a loved one in the military. The military does a good job, but there are still areas of service which are overlooked. TAPS immediately connects you with all the services we offer – you would get a care package in the mail, a hand written condolence note, call from our peer professional. Our staff of 42 people would reach out and tell you everything that is available – connect you with free “unlimited” grief counseling, a peer mentor, a whole slate of online support mechanisms in place to help with the loss and a quarterly TAPS Magazine filled with articles by families for families to help share connections to community support groups.”  says Ms. Carroll.

TAPS serves spouses, family members and even extended family members

Since its founding TAPS has served between 30,000 and 50,000 families on its $3.9 million budget.

“Our military does a magnificent job executing in some very complex political arenas – I spent a year in Baghdad in 2003 to 2004 – when you’re there on the ground you can see what a difference we’re making.”

TAPS is working with surviving Iraqi family members as well, teaching them to recognize their sacrifices and getting them connected with Americans so we can break down some of the cultural barriers and understand that loss is universal.

There is no question that Bonnie Carroll is a woman with the heart of a servant. A woman who is changing America with her service.



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