The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paid Bonnie Carroll one of the highest compliments he knew: He compared her to a Marine.
Speaking Tuesday night at a Washington, D.C., reception in honor of the founder of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford quoted President Ronald Reagan when he said, "Some people live a lifetime and wonder if they've made a difference. United States Marines don't have that problem."
Dunford added, "With apologies to Ronald Reagan tonight, I'd like to paraphrase that ... Bonnie Carroll doesn't have that problem."
Carroll received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, at the White House on Nov. 25. A retired Air Force Reserve officer and the widow of Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, she founded TAPS after the tragic death of her husband in a C-12 plane crash in 1992.
Founded in 1994, TAPS provides a support network to those who have lost military loved ones. The organization also offers national and regional military survivor seminars and "Good Grief" camps for children.
Dunford said he had watched the televised award ceremony, during which Carroll and 16 other Americans were honored.
"I said, 'There's actually a lot of good people, a lot of accomplished people,'" Dunford recalled. "'But there's nobody more giving, more deserving of the award.'"
Staff with TAPS, which now has 68 employees, said Carroll is known for her warm personality and the close connections she makes with the survivors the organization serves.
"In the morning, when you call TAPS, it's Bonnie who answers the phone," said Kelly Griffith, a media relations manager for TAPS and the surviving sister of Marine Maj. Samuel Griffith, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011.
Carroll told Military.com she hopes the award and the recognition will allow TAPS to reach even more military survivors.
"Right now we have 12 new families on average coming to us every single day," she said. "But we know ... there are hundreds more that are out there struggling alone. We want to reach them and provide all the comfort and love and support that we can."
In the coming year, Carroll said, the organization is planning to take groups of surviving military spouses on a series of physically demanding expeditions to a Mount Everest base camp, Mount Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu.