Foundation Assists Children of Fallen Special Operations Troops
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2004 Sixty-six children of fallen military special operators have used Special Operations Warrior Foundation-provided scholarship grants to earn college degrees over the past 24 years, the organization's head official noted.
The SOWF began soon after the U.S. military's unsuccessful rescue attempt of 53 American citizens held hostage in Tehran, Iran, by Iranian militants, said retired Col. John T. Carney Jr., a former Air Force special operations officer and the foundation's president and chief executive officer.
Eight U.S. special operations members died on April 25, 1980, when two military aircraft collided and burned in the Iranian desert, causing the mission to be scrubbed, recalled Carney, who was a member of the "Desert One" rescue team. The deceased servicemembers, he noted, left behind 17 children whose ages ranged from 2 months to 15 years old.
Desert One's survivors "passed the hat" to provide for the children, Carney recalled, and the SOWF was born. He credited Benjamin F. Schemmer, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, as being among the organization's key founders.
"We decided that we would attempt to put the children through college," Carney said, noting that Dr. Jim Lewis, the son of C-130 pilot Capt. Hal Lewis, who perished during the Desert One mission, was put through medical school by the SOWF.
Today, the SOWF continues to provide scholarship grants covering tuition, room and board, and books for surviving children of active, Reserve or Guard special operators who've been killed during the performance of duty, Carney noted.
"If the fallen warrior was assigned to special operations -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine -- and they lose their life during training or during an operation, we will put their children through four years of college," he said.
The organization is currently funding college educations for 92 children of fallen servicemembers, Carney reported. Next year, he said, "we'll have as many as 120 children in college."
Servicemembers, Carney observed, are the primary contributors to the SOWF through the annual Combined Federal Campaign.
Most special operators who have died on duty are young men, he noted, and haven't completed making financial arrangements for their children's education. This makes the SOWF especially important, Carney pointed out, because "we at least relieve the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine of one concern, and that's their children's education."
The SOWF provided more than $650,000 in scholarship grants, educational programs, and financial aid counseling in 2003, according to the organization's Web site.