In 1989, I served in Operation Just Cause in Panama with Sergeant William Delaney Gibbs from the 7th Infantry Division. Five days before Christmas, Gibbs was killed, leaving behind a young wife and an unborn daughter, a traumatic and life-altering experience that every military family fears.
There are thousands of stories just like that of the Gibbs‚Äô family, of men and women who do not make it back, a risk faced every day by those who have bravely signed up to serve our country. We estimate that more than 15,000 military children have lost a parent to combat or accidents over the last 25 years. Because of Sergeant Gibbs, and the thousands of others who lost their lives while protecting ours, my wife and I founded Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. We wanted to help the children of those who didn‚Äôt return by helping to provide the one thing their parents most wanted for them: a bright and successful future.
Giving the Children of Heroes a Start in Life
A completely debt-free college education is the single most important gift we can give. In today‚Äôs world a college education is the key to a successful future. Not only does it ensure job opportunities in our increasingly knowledge-based economy, but it also introduces students to ideas and methods of learning that will serve them in all aspects of their lives. By providing college scholarships and long-term educational counseling to these children, Children of Fallen Patriots honors the lives of those who have sacrificed themselves for our country, ensuring the success of those they loved and left behind.
To date, we have provided approximately $7 million to make the collegiate dreams of young adults across the country possible. Young adults like Christina Vansickle, whose Marine Corps pilot father died in a training accident two weeks before she was born, or Tabitha Bonilla, who lost both her father and her husband in separate incidents in Iraq within 11 months.
We Need Your Help to Find These Families
To continue our work, we need the help of the American public. There is no centralized tracking system of children who have lost a parent in the armed forces, and the process of finding and applying for help is confusing and burdensome for children and families. Our goal is to build that centralized tracking system and while our database of surviving families is growing, deserving children are still slipping through the cracks every day. We have currently identified more than 4,000 children who qualify for our services, and the average age of these children is 10 years old.¬† We ask that if you know the family of a fallen service member that you encourage them to enroll with us ‚Äì the process takes less than five minutes on our website at www.fallenpatriots.org.¬† That way we can be prepared when their children are ready for college.
Existing government programs and benefits do not cover the full cost of college nor do they reach all the deserving children and not every surviving family is aware of this help. Even with benefits and other scholarships, the average ‚Äúgap‚Äù per child is more than $35,000 for four years of college, which means that just the children we have in our database will need over $500 million to ensure their college educations are fully paid. And this is just a fraction of total college needs for all surviving families.
As we recognize and honor the sacrifices and challenges faced by those who serve in the military, I ask that you think too, of the countless families whose lives were forever altered when their father or mother was killed. As the Americans their parents were sworn to protect, it is our great honor and privilege to help give the children of these brave patriots the best possible future.