When President Trump announced his intent to appoint Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to the coveted position of Secretary of Defense, Marines and service members all over the world rejoiced at the idea, despite the fact that existing regulation would not allow the appointment without a congressional waiver.  Having retired from active duty only four years before his potential appointment, Mattis had not yet fulfilled the mandated seven-year “cooling off period” required by law before being permitted to take the reins of America’s military machine.  His waiver was approved, and James Mattis assumed control of the Pentagon as perhaps the most popular military commander of the modern era.

On Thursday, the Secretary of Defense drew from those deep connections with America’s service men and women when welcoming family members that belong to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, to the Pentagon.

“I cannot tell you what an honor it is to have you here,” the secretary told the many families of the fallen as they arrived for the 23rd annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.

“We get a lot of important people in this building, but no one is more important to us in our hearts than all of you,” Mattis told the group of men, women and children.

The family members were welcomed to the Pentagon via its prestigious River Entrance, which is usually used to greet foreign-country ambassadors, presidents, prime ministers and kings.  Mattis made it clear to the families as they entered that, as far as he was concerned, their presence was a more honored arrival than any foreign monarchy.

“I will remember these steps much longer [because of] you standing on them than anyone [else], and they too would understand,” he said.

TAPS is a non-profit organization that “offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in our Armed Forces or as a result of his or her service.”  Since its inception in 1994, TAPS has offered twenty-four hour comfort and compassion to grieving family members through a peer support network and professional connections with grief counseling resources.  TAPS provides these services at no cost to those they assist, and to date they’ve helped over 70,000 surviving families cope with continuing to live after the loss of a loved one.  They also hold national and regional events, such as this weekend’s National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.

“There is compatibility between us that brings honor to us just by your presence here,” Mattis told the family members in attendance.  “We understand you, we recognize what you have given, what your families have given and we stand with you,” he added.