Although Dunn may have died, his legacy has not. I have made perpetuating his memory his my mission. As long as people remember Lance Cpl. Kielin Terrell Dunn his loss will have not been in vain.
I am Dunn’s mother. The organization TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, helps me remember him.
Dunn was a young man known for his compassion, commitment to duty and willingness to help others. He always had a smile on his face and was agile on his feet. His ability to flip off walls, and sometimes people, earned him the title of the “ best break dancer” among his fellow Marine brothers and the Afghan soldiers. He was fearless and that made him point man on his 1/6 A Co infantry team.
Dunn understood what it meant to give back long before the Corps. He dedicated much his time feeding and clothing the poor while learning about respect and responsibility. The lessons he’d learn would eventually make a profound impact on lives at home and abroad.
In a recent visit to D.C. I got to become a part of history as the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, visited the U.S. Capital for a joint meeting last month. The Afghan leader spoke of the progress that our Heroes have made in his country. It was a surreal moment — the Afghan leader thanked me for my son’s service, his sacrifice. I got to tell the Afghan President who my son is and what he has done for his country.
But to understand such an incredible young man, one has to take a closer look at where he came from.
Dunn was bred to be natural leader and poised to serve his country with the best of his abilities. Dunn understood the risks, the cost of American freedom. He was from a military family. I served in the Army and married the Navy prior to my separation. Dunn’s stepfather, Senior Chief Petty Officer Gary Campbell, served in the U.S. Navy. He retired after 24 years of service, two years after the death of our son, Kielin.
Dunn has two siblings who were 12 and eight-years-old at the time of his death. Now, 17 and 14-years-old, they too aspire to walk in the footsteps of their parents and older brother. His sister, Nicole Campbell, is focused on commissioning to the Air Force. Dunn’s youngest and only brother, Jonathan Campbell wants to join the Coast Guard. Unlike his older brother, he wants to be closer to home while protecting his country.
There were days in the beginning not long after his February, 2010 death in Afghanistan that I worried that Dunn would be forgotten. When the anniversary of his death came in 2011, and I was freshly feeling the constant weight of his loss, a simple gesture from TAPS — a letter in the mail — made me know that I was not alone. Now on every birthday and anniversary I can count on TAPS to be there.
TAPS, a non-profit organization available 24/7 to help the survivors of military loss, fills the gap for former military families. Where the military’s services to survivors end, TAPS help begins.
I’m am the Vice President of our Hampton Roads Gold Star Mothers Chapter. Our chapter is a part of the national American Gold Star Mothers Organization in D.C. Gold Star Mothers are known for honoring our MIA and Fallen, and serving our wounded warriors and veterans. We volunteer our time with various organizations such as VA Hospitals and the Fisher House. In fact, some of our Gold Star Mothers, including myself, have been involved with veteran as on local, state, and national level. I’ve worked with my congressional office, as well as my governor’s office to promote awareness of Gold Star families and the fallen.
I’m also currently representing my son and Families of the Fallen through the Camp Grom Project. The multi-million dollar facility will aid adult/children with physical disabilities, wounded warriors and families of the fallen. I was able to honor my son by participating in the groundbreaking ceremony for Camp Grom with my local mayor, governor and other local officials.
As for pursuing my bachelors, the reason for doing so came about when I was volunteering at VA hospitals. I started visiting the VA hospital a few month after my son died. I encountered veterans who opened up to me as a Gold Star Mother. With my new healthcare related degree I can continue working with the community by connecting families to services and outreach programs designed to promote healing while honoring our fallen.
This is the same principle that drives TAPS. Through TAPS I realize that I am not alone in my journey and am reassured that my son will always be on the minds of many Americans. I understand that people must move forward and sometimes forget that there are families left behind.
But TAPS doesn’t do that. They have never let me forget that they care. TAPS is a gift that no one ever wants to receive, but is happy to have.
Terri Campbell works tirelessly to remember her son Lance Cpl. Kielin Terrell Dunn.