WASHINGTON — The Army’s top leader honored an organization dedicated to funding the education of military children whose parents made the ultimate sacrifice Tuesday morning.
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth awarded members of the Children of the Fallen Patriots Foundation the 2023 Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award, which highlights the efforts of those who profoundly impacted the lives of service members and their families.
Since 2002, CFP has provided $70 million in scholarships and grants to nearly 3,000 children of Gold Star families, or families of veterans who died in combat, including about 1,600 graduates.
“The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation serves those who have given the most to this nation – our Gold Star families,” Wormuth said during a Pentagon ceremony. “They know the sacrifice of our military families, and they know that the greatest of these sacrifices is to lose a loved one in service to the nation. They also know that one of the greatest challenges faced by parents and students alike is the rising cost of education.”
A 2022 study showed about 25,000 military children today have lost parents in service-related deaths. CFP identified about 12,000 of those children and has pledged to fund any college costs that exceeds Department of Veterans Affairs scholarships for qualified recipients.
The foundation has closed the gap between supplemented expenses and the total cost of a four-year college degree. On average, that funding disparity totals to about $25,000 annually per student.
“The impact that this makes – to lift the financial burden from our Gold Star families, to increase the educational and financial standing of those surviving children, and to realize our fallen service members dreams of setting their children on the road to success – is immeasurable,” Wormuth said.
Steve Smith, a retired Army officer, and CFP development operations supervisor, Kayla Martin, accepted the award in a Pentagon ceremony Tuesday morning.
The roots of the Children of the Fallen Patriots organization began more than 30 years ago, when founder David Kim, then a young Army officer, faced his first bout with tragedy in his military career.
During Operation Just Cause in December 1989, U.S. forces invaded Panama to remove dictator Manuel Noriega from power and restore democracy in the Central American country.
Sgt. William Delaney Gibbs, a member of Kim’s unit, the 7th Infantry Division, died during the operation, leaving behind his wife and unborn daughter. Moved by the tragedy, Fisher, would eventually found Children of the Fallen Patriots in 2002.
More than two decades later, the foundation not only aids those whose parents died in combat, but also those who passed away in training accidents, illnesses and even suicide. CFP does not place limits on its funding for the children’s college expenses, instead it works with each student to assure they graduate without debt.
“Our nation is forever in debt to these children – children who didn’t choose the military life for themselves, but who loved someone who served and wore the cloth of our nation,” Wormuth said. “The Fishers knew this and were dedicated to repaying this debt. And the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation knows this and has shown us all what it means to make a difference in the lives of these Gold Star families.”
Sixteen of CFP’s 27 full-time staff come from Gold Star families, including four veterans and 13 scholarship recipients.
Philanthropists Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher established the Fisher House Foundation in 1990 to give free housing to family members of hospitalized U.S. troops during treatment. In honor of their efforts, the Army, Air Force and Navy created the award in 1996.