TAPS Military Mentor of the Year 2020: Melissa Simpson
Giving back often benefits those who volunteer as much as the ones they aim to help. This is certainly true for Melissa Simpson. When she first started volunteering with TAPS at a campout in Colorado Springs in 2013, it had been two years since she had lost Air Force 2nd Lieutenant Robin Threlkel, a close friend and co-worker, to suicide.
Melissa was there to spend time with a group of 10- and 11-year-olds who had lost a parent or close loved one. What she learned at that event — and at later TAPS events — helped her deal with her own emotions and ultimately benefited Robin’s family, too.
“Robin was the type of guy that when he walked into a room, the room lit up.” Melissa said. “He was all about connections and making sure that people were taken care of. So I have really wanted to make sure that his family was taken care of since his death.”
Since that first campout, Melissa has attended over 20 TAPS events in different roles because she wants to help surviving military families anyway she can. She says her experience with TAPS has also made her a stronger person and better leader. “Being involved with TAPS has definitely helped out with my role in the military.”, she said. “There are things I have learned and taken back to my units and squadrons and I’m able to lead them through hard times.
About being part of the TAPS community she said: “My TAPS family has helped me survive so many things. I know I can turn to them for anything without judgment and that I have a tribe of people who are there to support me."
Melissa has had a lasting impact on many surviving military children's lives as their military mentor and group leader, and TAPS is honored to recognize her as the TAPS Military Mentor of the Year 2020.
Although Melissa is quick to point out how much her involvement with TAPS has benefited her, fellow military mentors turn the focus back on the contributions Melissa has made, with comments such as:
- “Melissa Simpson is one of the most genuine souls on this planet. She has a kind heart and is always there to lend an ear and cheer you on. I couldn't be more proud to call her a friend. … She does an amazing job with our families, especially the kids.”
- “Melissa is the first to send a message on a bad day. She is constantly looking at ways to take things back to her unit that support her Airmen. She is someone others connect with, and she gives unconditional friendship and love. … She also has the very best laugh!”
- “Melissa always goes above and beyond, and this is never more evident than with her long record of volunteer service with TAPS. In addition to being a mom, a wife, and a senior non-commissioned officer in the United States Air Force, Melissa always answers the call when serving the families of America's fallen.
- “Melissa personifies a servant leader. She gives her time and energy to others freely, but maintains her humility and often avoids recognition for her contributions. Melissa is the first one willing to help, and the last one to take any credit. She does whatever she needs to do to support others.”
Master Sergeant Melissa A. Simpson is the Flight Chief, Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Air Force Base, New Jersey. She entered the U.S. Air Force at age 18 in October 1999.
She is the recipient of the Air Force Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Unit Award, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with five oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global war on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Air Force Overseas Ribbon Short Tour, the Air Force Overseas Ribbon Long Tour, and the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon with Gold Border.
Melissa will be presented with the Military Mentor of the Year Award by Michele Threlkel. The TAPS Honor Guard Gala will be held in Washington, D.C., on March 18. Funds raised from the Gala will be used to provide critical support services to families who have suffered the loss of a loved one whose life included military service.