It's not that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey stopped being the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an hour or so on Friday when he joined about 500 children and their families in Washington, D.C., for a three-day visit organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
But he did set aside some of the seriousness required for his position during a question-and-answer session with kids -- even mugging and uber-flexing for the camera at the request of one youngster.
"That's gonna be on Twitter," he predicted while the children and adults across the function room of the Crystal City Marriott Gateway applauded, laughed and cheered.
The occasion was the 21st annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar, where adults who lost a service member -- whether to combat, suicide, training accident or illness -- gather to support each other in workshops and presentations. Children learn coping strategies and meet others who have also suffered loss.
But part of it too is witnessing the support families get from the military leadership. Enter Dempsey, who was willing to engage in a half-hour or so of self-deprecating humor and lead several hundred children in song. Among the selections: the classic "The Unicorn Song" and "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story.
During his Q&A, one young girl asked Dempsey why he was there.
"I came here the first time because I thought I would try to give something to you, and that would be my love and support. But I've come back because of what I take away from it. What I take away from it is an incredible feeling of hopefulness and an incredible love."
Dempsey then added: "I don't get a lot of these standing ovations in Washington!"
TAPS President Bonnie Carroll was pleased with Dempsey's appearance at the event.
"It's incredibly important that these families know that America remembers, that the military remembers, that those in leadership carry the names of the loved ones in their hearts every day," she said.
Carroll founded TAPS in 1994, two years after her husband, Tom, was killed in crash of an Army C-12 transport plane in Alaska.
During the nearly weeklong event, family members have opportunities to meet with experts in military loss. There are also workshops on grief, including one using art therapy as a means of healing.
Children have a chance to take part in sports activities as part of the Good Grief Camp, which is a special program aimed at helping children deal with the loss of a father, mother, brother or sister. Each child taking part in a Good Grief Camp is provided a military mentor/companion -- someone who ensures one-on-one attention and stands as a reminder that the military has not forgotten them.
In Washington over the Memorial Day Weekend, the TAPS children will also be visiting the memorials and historic sites around the city.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.