SAN DIEGO – The crew and family members of the guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) attended a family readiness seminar at the Murphy Canyon family housing area chapel in San Diego, March 19.
The seminar was hosted by Lt. Stephen Brown, Mobile Bay’s command chaplain, and featured guest speakers who talked about the loss of a service member.
Speaking first was Jennifer Zellem, who lost her husband Lt. Cmdr. Scott Zellem in 2004 when his S-3B Viking aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan. In the years following the tragedy, Zellem channeled her grief into public service.
“Talking about death will not cause it to happen,” Zellem told the audience. “However, in the event it does, you will be so grateful that you did.”
Zellem, part of the Navy Mutual Aid Association, said she regularly speaks to military units like Mobile Bay on preparing for the death of a service member which she calls the worst case scenario.
Her lecture focused on planning and making sure all the paperwork, especially a service member’s Page 2 is accurate and up to date in order to ensure spouses, children and other family members are cared for in the event of a service member’s death.
Zellem said that navigating grief is difficult but having financial affairs in order takes a burden off the bereaved and allows them to concentrate on other significant decisions during a time of crisis.
Following Zellem’s presentation, Brown lead a discussion group that featured Kim Burditt and Megan Griffin, two members of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit group that focuses on caring for families of fallen military personnel.
Both Burditt and Griffin have lost family members who served in the military as the result of suicide. For Burditt it was her brother, a Marine Corps veteran, and for Griffin, it was her husband, an active duty Army soldier.
“In our eyes anyone who served is a hero, regardless of how they died, and their life is not defined by their death,” said Burditt, who said she works to help remove the taboo of talking about suicide in today’s society.
Burditt said TAPS offers a variety of invaluable services to anyone who has lost a service member or veteran, regardless of the cause of death.
“TAPS is here for survivors now, five minutes from now, five months from now, and five years from now,” said Burditt, who said she is glad to be a part of an organization that supports survivors of loss throughout their grief journey, no matter what the stage.
Some of the topics discussed during the seminar had an immediate impact on some Mobile Bay Sailors.
“After hearing all of the speakers, I wanted to get involved,” said Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SW) Franklin Troyer. “I hope to volunteer at TAPS’ Good Grief Camp.”
Troyer said the camp is designed as a program for children who have lost a family member and he can relate because he lost his mother from cancer at a very young age.
While sobering, the seminar encouraged all Mobile Bay Sailors to think about loss, to plan for the worst case scenario and to be mindful of the signs of suicide.
Mobile Bay is currently undergoing a CNO's Selected Restricted Availability in the BAE Shipyard San Diego after returning from a deployment in April 2013 and completion of eight months of follow-on sustainment operations. The ship is assigned to Commander, Carrier Strike Group Three as part of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group.