Zachary & Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award Ceremony
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

From the Pentagon:

Good afternoon. This is a great honor for me, if I may, because this is not about me, but to have the opportunity to share in such a distinguished award and help bestow it on such a deserving individual is very very special. I want to thank each and every one of you for joining us here today to help pay tribute to someone we recognize has done so much for all our men and women in uniform and their families.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said: "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve." He went on to say, "you just need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."

Pretty moving words and moving, I suspect, because they are so very true.

We are here today to recognize great acts of humanitarian service and compassion - the very qualities that Dr. King described.

Today, we pay tribute to the selfless work of a tremendous individual and the amazing organization she helped create that has brought relief, as David said, to thousands upon thousands of service men and women and their families' and did so at what we know is some of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Of course I'm speaking about Karen Guenther and the incredible Semper Fi Fund.

But before I take a moment to remind everyone of why Karen and her organization are obviously beloved and so worthy of this honor, I would like, if I may, to say a few words about the equally incredible individuals after whom this award named.

Since 1996, the United States Military Departments have jointly sponsored the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Humanitarian Award to emphasize the amazing contributions that Zachary and his wife Elizabeth Fisher have made -- a legacy of caring and compassion, one as we obviously know has been continued to this very day by the Fisher family -- always there, always helping members of the Armed Forces.

Anyone who is even remotely connected to our military knows full well the legacy of service and compassion of the Fishers -- past and present. They are truly among the pantheon of storied American patriots. Here in the Department of Defense their name is iconic, it is historic, and rightly so.

Zachary Fisher was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. And he said he considered it a privilege to live in this great country of ours, alongside the patriotic men and women who help keep her free.

He said simply of those men and women - "I owe them."

Fortunately for us, Zachery and Elizabeth spent a lifetime repaying the debt that Zach believed he "owed." And has been noted, his family's spirit continues that dedication to this very day.

If you think about it, in fact, the Fishers have helped all of us -- all Americans repay the tremendous debt we owe to the men and women who, every day, put on that uniform and risk their lives to defend our country and advance the cause of freedom around the world.

Their acts of generosity are equally legendary and, as we know, over the course of this great nation's history, they are endless.

In response, to continue the Fisher's amazing legacy, each year, we honor and appropriately recognize an individual from the private sector or organization that has demonstrated a like-minded spirit and dedication -- someone or something we consider as demonstrating exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concern for members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.

This year, the secret's out of the bag, we're proud to honor a most-worthy individual and a most worthy organization.

The Semper Fi Fund had its founding in the spring of 2003, when the first wave of wounded Marines and Sailors landed at Camp Pendleton, California from duty in the Middle East.

Karen Guenther, a registered nurse and spouse of an active duty Marine, saw firsthand the challenges faced by these returning wounded warriors.

Along with a dedicated group of Marine spouses, Karen passionately began organizing welcome home activities at the Camp Pendleton base hospital. They arranged travel for family members who couldn't afford airfare. They provided a specialized van for a disabled Marine; they distributed care bags filled with toiletries and phone cards. And the injured… kept… coming.

Realizing that a growing number of families across the nation were facing similar situations, Karen began assembling a team to expand those grass roots efforts, eventually building, what we now know is, one of the most highly-respected and highly-regarded nationwide nonprofits to ever serve our military.

Her humble hope, through it all, ensuring that wounded and critically ill service members and their families would never be alone and never be forgotten.

Karen's informal group was incorporated in 2004 as the "Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund." Their expanded mission, under her leadership, soon became clear: to provide critically injured and ill service members with immediate financial aid and quality of life solutions to lift the burdens of their new reality, so each family could focus on what was most important - their loved one's recovery.

They started with a single $500 donation. Over the past decade, amazingly, the Semper Fi Fund has granted more than $122 million in donations, morphing into a worldwide -- and world class - charitable organization that now serves all of our military branches.

More importantly, it has transformed the lives of thousands of wounded service members and their families.

Just like the Fisher family of charities, the Semper Fi Fund works with a small dedicated staff, augmented by volunteers and supporters just like Karen.

These volunteers keep administrative and fund raising costs to a bare minimum, ensuring the maximum amount of money -- close to 95 percent of each donation - is available to injured or ill service members and their families.

But I'm told Karen doesn't measure success in dollars alone. Instead, she and her colleagues measure matters in changed lives. But, by whatever metric one might choose, the Semper Fi Fund is a story of success.

On behalf of a grateful Nation and a grateful Department of Defense, I'm deeply proud to play a small in recognizing Karen's extraordinary service. Thanks to people like Karen and her faithful team -- so called ordinary people who chose to act and to serve wherever and whenever they see a need -- thousands of service men and women have been graced by what they need to ensure their future -- the vibrant future they deserve -- the future they have earned through their willing sacrifice on our behalf.

But Karen's work -- all of our work -- is by no means done. As she knows so well, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families will need us -- and will need organizations like the Semper Fi Fund - for decades to come.

In truth, many of our veterans face a lifetime of need, not all of them always met by a well-intentioned government.

The compassion and concern of patriotic citizens like Karen, the Fishers and their organizations will always be needed to fill those gaps.

Karen once said of her work, "We began at their bedside and promised we would be there for them as long as they need us." Semper Fi, Always Faithful, says it all.

Thank you, Karen. Thank you for your faithful service to our military and to our Nation.

And perhaps most of all, thank you for helping us keep faith with the Military Family. Thank you. God bless you.