Foundation Keeps Promise To America's Fallen Warriors By MYLINH SHATTANSpecial to The Tampa Tribune Published: Nov 12, 2005
Eight-year-old Meagan pulled herself up to the bar while hundreds of Army Rangers looked on, counting, "Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen …" Col. William E. Powell told his men that if they couldn't do as many pull-ups as his little girl, they could go ahead and pack their bags.
This was one of Meagan's last memories of her father, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment, who died in a plane crash during a training mission in 1981.
This is a challenging era in our nation's history, and forces like the Rangers are vital to our success in the war against terrorism. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of surviving children from fallen special operations soldiers has increased. And this is where the Special Operations Warrior Foundation comes in.
In its 25th year of service, the foundation provides college scholarships and counseling for the surviving children of special operations personnel killed on missions or in training. Last year 58 children were left behind, and already in 2005 there are 64 more.
The foundation pays tuition to any college they get into, plus board and books. It's an investment in the future of the children and an honor to our fallen heroes.
Special operations personnel consist of troops like the Army Rangers, the Navy SEALs and Air Force special operations squadrons, commanded out of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base. These are the guys who are called in the middle of the night to the middle of nowhere in operations we'll never know about.
They have a mission, their soldiers, their country and their families to think of when they take on dangerous assignments. Knowing that their families will be taken care of, no matter what happens, is a huge weight to lift off their shoulders.
I wanted to learn about this organization based here in Tampa, so I requested a meeting with retired Col. John Carney Jr., president and CEO of the foundation.
As I walked through the door, I noticed two poster-size collages of children at the far side of the foyer entrance. Photos of young kids, teens, college students, grads in their caps and gowns -- these are the surviving children.
Plaques and awards filled Carney's office. He survived Desert One, the Iranian hostage rescue mission in 1980, and was involved with Grenada, Panama, Iraq and Kuwait. As the foundation's president, he has increased donations more than tenfold and has contacted all surviving children, many of whom had not been located. He hired a school psychologist, Carolyn Becker, to provide education services and counseling.
I asked if they had enough money to meet the need, and he expressed concern about the jump in the number of children since 9/11.
I also asked both Carney and Becker if they'd share some personal stories, and that's when I first learned about Meagan Powell, now a senior at the University of Richmond.
Meagan's photo on the wall was yellow with age -- a small girl clinging to the back of a soldier, her father in fatigues. Next to it, a recent picture revealed a confident young woman. We looked silently, a swell of emotion rising among us.
In a speech, Meagan once said, "I didn't have my father for very long, only nine years, but the years I did have with him were larger than life."
Our nation has called upon its best fighters and many gave their all. On Veterans Day, we are called upon to honor their service.
Through Special Operations Warriors Foundation, we citizens can give them one less thing to worry about by providing for their children's future. In that small way, we help fight the war on terror .