Fierce Woman of the Month: Bonnie Carroll, Founder of TAPS

Today, most of us are settling back in to our routine after what was an extended holiday week. But how many of us actually took the time to think about what the holiday actually means? The 4th of July is not only about celebrating our country’s independence, but it’s also about the men and women of the Armed Forces who work to maintain our country’s greatness. Many of us forget that without our military, our values, morals, and legacy would be impossible; intangible ideals instead of reality.

That’s why this past Independence Day, Maxim chose to honor a woman who has not only served in the Armed Forces of her country but also in the White House.

Bonnie Carroll is Maxim’s Fierce Woman of the Month series choice for July. And what better month to celebrate and feature a woman that has prioritized the mental health and well-being of the families left behind after a military tragedy?

Bonnie founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in 1994, an organization devoted to helping the survivors, widows, families and caregivers deal with their grief and trauma after a service member dies. TAPS is a peer mentoring program which operates 24/7. It links survivors to each other for care and support. Grief seminars for adults and Good Grief Camps for children are held throughout the country, annually.

By creating a peer network in which people can communicate with others in similar circumstances, TAPS helps people actively deal with their bereavement. Vocalizing pain is cathartic and having a community network has significant beneficial mental health effects.

After the death of her husband, Army Brigadier General Tom Carroll, Bonnie Carroll turned to the other surviving families of the plane crash that took her husband’s life and found solace in that peer group. “I founded TAPS after spending two years benchmarking best practices in peer-based emotional support organizations and examining the services and support already available for bereaved military families,” said Bonnie.

“TAPS was designed to fill gaps in care. We provide peer-based emotional support by connecting grieving people with others who have experienced a similar loss.”

Founding TAPS was just one of Bonnie’s many accomplishments. She also served in the Air National Guard. Additionally, she worked with the Economic Policy Council at the White House and eventually, directly with President Reagan.

Bonnie’s inspiration and personal “fierce woman” mentor was her mother.

“My mother overcame so many barriers back in the ’40’s to be a pilot (in World War II) and a businesswoman. She was a great inspiration who never let being a woman define what she could achieve.” Though she lost her mother as a young teenager, Bonnie followed in her mother’s footsteps and never allowed her gender or femininity to hinder her success.

This is the most inspiring message Bonnie reiterated throughout her interview: It’s about the individual and their accomplishment. Gender doesn’t define a person. Actions do.

It is this message that Maxim wants to promote. Our company’s guiding principles about body, earth and health matters are what led to the creation of Maxim soft, safe and natural products. Our company is not just about the product choices we make, but also about the great women who make those choices. These elements are connected, just as human beings are. Wellness in one area translates into wellness in others.

We grow stronger as women, as a population, and as a country, when we work for the betterment of others. We may take on challenges alone, but we never fight for things that affect us, alone.

Women still face challenges in many sectors of life. But, women in America have some of the most extensive resources and freedoms in the world. And this is what independence is about – using our lives to celebrate those freedoms. Ensuring that we take up causes that make others’ lives better, vocalizing the plight of others and using our rights to try and extend similar rights to others all over the world.

When asked about her thoughts concerning the War on Women, Carroll replied: “I think women today still face many barriers and challenges, but I also can see how far women have come. I often think of the women who have gone before me and worked to empower the ones coming after me.”

Here is more wisdom from our interview with Bonnie about her thoughts on being a “minority” in her field as a woman, and more about TAPS & how you can become more involved.

You have dedicated your life in service- in the Armed Forces and at the political level. What encouraged you to do so and which have you found to be the most enjoyable and/ or rewarding?

“From a young age, I was inspired by my mother, who flew airplanes in WWII.  She was a woman who broke many barriers in her life, and it was devastating to lose her to cancer when I was a teenager.  As I made my way in the working world, I knew that my life would include service and I joined the Air National Guard to pursue that calling, taking a leave of absence from a demanding job in Washington, DC.

When I came home from Basic Training, I entered public service with a position in the White House working with the Economic Policy Council with an inspiring team that was focused on keeping America strong and vital. Eventually I was promoted to a position in the West Wing of the White House working directly with President Reagan, and it was in this position that my service in the National Guard and my job in the White House came together and I became involved in a whale rescue up in Alaska, through which I met my husband.

This whale rescue brought together the Soviets, the military, Greenpeace, the Eskimos and the oil companies at a time when the Cold War was still going on, and brought down barriers as it freed the whales.  [This event was recently featured in Universal Studio’s film “The Big Miracle”, starring Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney (as my husband) and Vinessa Shaw (as me)].”

Have you ever found it a challenge to integrate your femininity into your career or public persona? As a minority in the Armed Forces, what was your experience being a woman? Did this change as you traveled through various sectors and arms of the government?

“Throughout my life, whether in the military or in senior government positions, I’ve always been in the minority as a woman.  Even in my avocations, which include vintage car restoration and combat pistol shooting, I’ve been among the few women actively engaged.  That said, I’ve also had the chance to see amazingly strong women excelling in traditionally male dominated jobs and sports.

As a long time member of the Alaska Air National Guard, we had almost a thirty percent female membership, and went through a major operational readiness inspection with the leads in each team, including aircraft maintenance, being women.  The best part about this exercise, besides being rated “outstanding” at the end, was that no one took notice of the gender of the team leads until after it was all over – it was just about meeting the mission and doing it well.”

Women play a large, often invisible, support role to our country’s servicemen as mothers, wives, sisters, and girlfriends. Are there any organizations for these women to connect while their significant others are serving?

“For families of those still serving, I would suggest one of our peer organizations, the National Military Family Association at www.nmfa.org, Blue Star Families at www.bluestarfam.org, or A Vet’s Family at www.avetsfamily.org. These organizations, all founded by dynamic women who saw a need and stepped forward to meet it, provide a strong peer network of support for those who are supporting our service members.”

Are there ways for citizens who are not directly related to servicemen to give their condolences or general signs of their appreciation to soldiers or their families?

“A great way to get involved is through the TAPS Run & Remember Team, where anyone can run in memory of a fallen service member. We connect runners with families so they can learn about the service member they are running in memory of, and often the runners form a bond with the family. The family is often deeply touched by the runner’s willingness to run a race in memory of their loved one, and the runners also raise funds to help TAPS assist more families. You can get involved by going to www.taps.org and signing up under ‘Get Involved’!  There are also other ways to volunteer with TAPS through our “Volunteer Central.” We’d love to have you on our team!”

For a more extensive biography on Bonnie, her amazing career, and extensive involvement click here!

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