TAPS Las Vegas Survivor Experience Presented by the Robert Irvine Foundation

LAS VEGAS, NV—This summer, Robert Irvine and the Robert Irvine Foundation partnered with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to create a unique experience for families and loved ones of servicemen and women who died while serving. Over the course of three days and nights in Las Vegas—from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, July 20—families of 16 fallen heroes enjoyed live entertainment, gourmet food, and hands-on culinary training from Irvine himself.

This program was the first iteration of what is planned to be annual event that will be funded by the Robert Irvine Foundation (RIF). The RIF worked with partners in Las Vegas to procure in-kind donations from the Tropicana—where Irvine runs his own restaurant, Robert Irvine’s Public House—to pay for the rooms of all family members, tickets to the Tropicana house show: Legends in Concert, and discounts to Vegas landmark restaurants Carmine’s and Fogo de Chao.

The experience kicked off on the first night with dinner at Carmine’s at Caesar’s Palace. The family-style meal encouraged survivors to break bread and break the ice as this was the first time they had all met.

“We opened the dinner with every survivor introducing who they were, where they came from, and who their fallen family member was,” RIF Executive Director Dave Reid said. “As their stories came out, so did their tears. As painful as it was, and as bittersweet as it might have been to recall the memories of their lost loved ones, the shared grief created a sense of community and instantly connected these folks in a really meaningful way.”

Reid, a wounded veteran himself who lost his lower left leg to an IED while serving in the Middle East, then shared his story with the group. As it was also Reid’s birthday, the newfound friends joined together to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.

On the second day, the families took a group picture in front of the iconic Las Vegas sign and then hit the Raiders preview center, getting an early look at the new stadium being built to host the NFL franchise. Lunch at Tommy Bahamas followed.

After exploring Vegas on their own throughout the afternoon, the families regrouped for dinner alongside Irvine himself at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse. After touring the kitchen with the restaurant’s board chairman, the night concluded with the Legends in Concert show at the Tropicana. After 36 years, Legends is now Vegas’ longest-running show, featuring uncanny recreations of performances by icons like Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury.

After breakfast on the third and final day, the families went to the Nevada State Veterans Memorial where they were all given a white rose to add the name of their lost loved one on the memorial.

“It was an emotional moment,” Reid said. “TAPS founder Bonnie Carol opened the ceremony and her words went straight to the heart. When the families placed their roses, all you could hear were soft whispers of, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘We miss you.’”

The ceremony was followed by lunch at Rick’s Rollin Smoke BBQ & Tavern and a visit to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, made famous on the TV series Pawn Stars.

The day wrapped with the much-anticipated Chef Irvine Cooking experience at Robert Irvine’s Public House at the Tropicana. Survivors were divided into three teams, assigned a personal chef, and created their very own salsa, which Irvine judged. Throughout the challenge, Irvine threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings by having participants do pushups and other exercises.

Dinner at Public House followed, and the experience wrapped up with each survivor talking about their fallen hero in a closing ceremony. “There’s no way to place a dollar value on what we were able to accomplish over the course of these three days,” Reid said. “It’s easy to forget—because the cost for each individual veteran can be so high—that the whole family serves. It’s never one man or one woman. But when a loved one dies in service to his or her country, that fact comes into sharp, painful focus. We need to care for the surviving family members just as we need to care for wounded veterans.

“Moments like these help families grieve, and in some small way, heal through sharing. And because the surviving families are so often overlooked, it makes experiences like this one some of the most important work we can do.”

Learn more about the AIRPOWER FOUNDATION and the projects we support here.