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A hundred military widows find some peace in Alaska retreat

ANCHORAGE, Alaska _ Cheryl Dodson and Ursula Martin trudged out of the Alyeska Resort on snowshoes Thursday morning. They're best friends, they told me, as I watched them take pictures of each other in the snow. They came from North Carolina and Nevada, respectively. I asked how they met, and Dodson turned to Martin.

"Tell it, Mama," she said.

Their husbands, Air Force Capt. Michael K. Dodson and Col. George Martin, died in a B-52 crash near Guam in 2008, Martin said. They found each other after that.

"For me and her, it was like instant love," Dodson said.

Their husbands were sitting next to each other in their last moments. That fact bonds them like family, she said.

I looked out ahead toward a line of women, 30 or so human outlines against the fresh snow in Moose Meadows. For every one I could see, there was a tragedy. A soldier, an airman, a sailor or a marine dead. Car accidents. Heart attacks. Suicides. Helicopter crashes. Small arms fire.

One hundred widows flew to Anchorage this week for a national military widows gathering put on by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. Alaskan Bonnie Carroll started the organization after her husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll of the Alaska National Guard, died in a military plane crash in 1992.

Almost two decades later, with two wars going on, TAPS serves about 25,000 widows, children, parents and siblings. This group of widows will be at the start of the Iditarod sled dog race. Several mushers will carry ribbons honoring their husbands to the finish line in Nome.

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