As the so-called tip of the spear, the U.S. military's Special Operations forces (Army Rangers, Navy Seals, etc.) are usually the first ones going into harm's way. Leading the charge into battle is a dangerous business, and the Special Ops have seen hundreds of casualties since the beginning of the "Global War on Terror." When a soldier dies, the surviving family members are often left grieving and in dire financial straits. That's where the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) comes in.
"Thirty days after a fatality, we contact the family and let them know we're here and will provide for the child's college education," says Steve McLeary, SOWF's executive director. The program is working with 700 kids, of whom 113 are in college. If the current trend holds, 99 percent of those in the program will actually go to college (where all expenses are covered by the foundation). One hundred and twenty kids have already graduated with the foundation's help, and according to McLeary, SOWF has been extra busy lately. "What's happened is our needs have increased due to the number of fatalities, with 335 kids added since 9/11."
The organization's commitment to becoming "an extended family" of the fallen sets the charity apart. "We actively stay in contact with every member of the program," says McLeary. "If you wait to write a check until someone is 18 years old, they may have forgotten about you or they may have moved so many times we can't find them."
The foundation also provides more immediate assistance through the Wounded Warrior program. Started in 2005, Wounded Warrior provides money to family members after a special ops member is sent to recover at a military hospital.
"We're notified when a member of Special Ops is being sent to one of the hospitals," McLeary says. "As soon as we're notified, that becomes our number one priority. We send a check for $2,000 to the hospital or home via overnight mail, and they have the money in-hand in less than 24 hours."