Losing a parent is terrible for any child, especially when the parent dies in combat. On Tuesday, the Bureau of Land Management gave some of these “gold star kids” a day at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Several people hiked through Red Rock Canyon Tuesday in support of two siblings: Tommy Gessaro and his 16-year-old stepsister Sarah Bistline.
Tommy was a few years old when his father died during a classified mission.
Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Steve Ellis says he understands the loss of a loved one in the armed services; he’s carried his daughter’s dog tags since 2008.
“You can never get over it. I don’t think you want to, but you can get through it, and these things help you do that,” he said.
Last month, he decided the BLM would use public lands to help grieving military families heal.
Tommy has Asberger Syndrome and is usually reserved. After a few minutes, he opened up and conquered the mountain.
“They were a little bit hesitant, but once they limbered up on the first wall, they went right up,” Ellis said.
“This is his fourth time,” said rock climber Tracy Martin. “He’s having fun. Today’s his birthday.”
Sarah says she and her stepbrother left Red Rock Canyon feeling proud.
“I’m just glad I actually did rock climbing and, maybe when I’m older, I can do more,” she said.
Ellis says he’s not a therapist, but something about being in nature works for him. He says he thinks it worked for Tommy and Sarah too.
“See their eyes light up, and when they got to the top, they had a great sense of accomplishment,” he said. “When they came down, they were beaming.”
This rock climbing adventure in southern Nevada was one of the times the BLM has partnered with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – an organization that supports grieving military families.
More events are planned on BLM land around the country.