VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE -- As many military members know, the sense of camaraderie spans much further than to those who wear the uniform. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors lends community to grieving children, siblings, spouses, and family members who have lost a beloved military member.
Senior Airman Maria Ibarra, 30th Security Forces Squadron response force leader regularly works alongside other TAPS volunteers to help recovering children process these losses.
“A lot of people confuse it with what you do when you get out of the military, but it also aids children who have lost people close to them,” said Ibarra. “It doesn’t have to be the loss of their parents too; some of them have sisters, brothers, or anyone they were close to in the military. That’s what TAPS does, it is there to help them grieve.”
“When I was younger I knew people that went to TAPS,” said Ibarra. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to go on campouts that seems like so much fun.' I was a child then, I didn’t understand what was going on. I just wanted to go on a campout. When I got older and figured out what was really going on, I got involved.”
Ibarra started her TAPS involvement with a 5k run at Disneyland, and then by the next year went on to volunteer for campouts; now with different intentions.
“She is a lot more driven when it comes to helping others,” said Staff Sgt. Trevor Berghuis, 30th SFS bravo flight alarm monitor, and Ibarra’s supervisor. “It is definitely an inner motivation. She’s not doing it for bullets, for awards, or anything like that. Those are just bonuses that come after. She is there with the pure intention of helping people. It is definitely not the most common thing now-a-days.”
Ibarra closed with lessons she has learned through her involvement with TAPS.
“I have gained a lot of emotional and personal growth. I am security forces, so I am so used to doing things in a systematic fashion, and when you meet these kids they take you out of that,” said Ibarra. “They allow you to remember that there are other things that we need to worry about. You have these four and five year olds that are talking about their dads passing, losing their moms and I am over here worrying about what I am going to do today.”
For more information on TAPS, visit https://www.taps.org/.