FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
The platoon sergeant made it clear that should he not make it home from deployment his legacy of helping others should continue and that’s what his platoon leader, Defense Logistics Agency Energy Army Capt. Joe Quenga, did.
By following in his sergeant’s footsteps, the story of healing began for Quenga who started volunteering with the Combined Federal Campaign organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in May 2016.
“I was inspired by (Army) Master Sgt. Pablo Ruiz. I wanted to carry out his wishes … we had a strong working and personal relationship,” Quenga said.
The late Ruiz volunteered with TAPS from 2013 until his tragic death in May 2015 while serving in Afghanistan.
Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort and hope 24/7 through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources, all at no cost to surviving families and loved ones. TAPS President and Founder Bonnie Carroll founded the organization in 1994 after her husband, a brigadier general in the Alaska Army National Guard, crashed in the mountains with seven others. At that time, there were no national programs to support and comfort family survivors.
"Our programs support all those grieving the loss of a loved one in the military, including battle buddies like Capt. Quenga, who I met upon the death of his friend, Master Sgt. Pablo Ruiz,” Carroll said. “Joe has honored his friend's memory by picking up where Pablo left off, serving as a volunteer at numerous TAPS events."
To honor Ruiz’s memory, Quenga stepped into the same TAPS position that he left and set out on a plan to volunteer for every event that Ruiz did, within one year.
In May 2016, Quenga jumped in as Good Grief Mentor at the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. During the five-day camp, Quenga was mentor to a young boy, Luke, whose father died in 2010 in Afghanistan. Good Grief Camp focuses on survivors of service members who committed suicide and gives children a chance to talk about their feelings and to meet other children who share similar experiences.
“I think people forget about all of the service member’s survivors whether the next of kin, spouse or children,” he said. “We often don’t focus on the kids.”
Quenga helped Luke carry a message to his father in heaven. He attached a note on a string of a red balloon and tied it to Luke’s wrist and at the signal helped him release the balloon and watch it float away.
He recently spent a week in Phoenix, Arizona with Luke where they participated in assigned events and activities. Counselors are side-by-side with the mentors and follow a schedule for various ages.
“We get training as a mentor, but they don’t expect us to be a professional,” he said. “We are there to be a friend and role model for the children.”
Quenga said he can relate to the people using TAPS services because his unit lost three of their soldiers during downrange deployments. “As a TAPS volunteer, I not only help others but I also receive support and learn the importance of taking care of myself,” he said.
“I thought it was me giving something to TAPS,” he said in a recent TAPS article. “But it turned out volunteering helped me express my feelings about my own situation. I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
Quenga continues the legacy of his friend through numerous activities and projects. A recent project t is evolving at the Pentagon where a TAPS exhibit that will be up for one year. The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for spring 2018.
He also works on service projects, visits wounded service members and volunteers at events with TAPS partners. In March 2018, Quenga will work with the TAPS Honor Guard Gala, one of the organization’s largest fundraisers.
Most importantly, Quenga is a living tribute to his friend’s memory. This year, he raised $1,000 to fund a legacy scholarship in Ruiz’s honor. He plans to continue growing and promoting his scholarship fund hosting golf scrambles and other events in the new year to reach his goal of $5,000.
Quenga’s long-term goal is to establish a non-profit foundation working with donors and supporters to make it a permanent legacy in honor of Ruiz.
His message to the DLA Energy workforce is to select a CFC organization that has a larger cause than themselves.
TAPS is the largest non-profit organization for family members long after their service member passes away, and they are there for the long run.
“I believe TAPS does a better job than any federally funded care program around,” he said.
"TAPS does not receive any government funding, and instead relies on the generosity of the American people to provide vital services that help the families of our fallen military members," Carroll said.
As far as CFC goes, Quenga chose to donate to TAPS not only because he is an avid volunteer but also because he believes in their purpose.
“No matter what organization you choose, find a cause that means something to you and if it’s not monetarily, then promote the message of that cause for CFC,” Quenga said.
CFC 2017 fundraising will continue until Jan. 12. For more information, visit CFCNCA.ORG or contact the DLA Energy CFC Coordinator Leonard Gumayagay at 703-767-4953.