In making the ultimate sacrifice for their country, many American service members leave behind young children who live out that sacrifice every day. Families of disabled veterans also sacrifice daily. Not only are soldiers left on the battlefield — but whole families are, too.
One organization, Folds of Honor, has taken up the task of continuing what those who served wanted to give their children and spouses: a chance for a quality education. With a mission of “Honor Their Sacrifice, Educate Their Legacy,” the group is doing just that.
It began in 2006, when one service member had a light bulb moment. Returning home from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Major Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard, learned that a flight he was on carried precious cargo — the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin, 28, who was killed May 31, 2006, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The aircraft’s pilot asked the passengers to remain seated after they landed so that the flag-covered casket could be carried off first and met by Brocklin’s family. Maj. Rooney stayed seated out of respect — but half the passengers ignored the request. They also ignored the sacrifice for freedom made by one man.
As Maj. Rooney watched the family meet the casket, he noticed a young boy — Corporal Bucklin’s son, Jacob. He wondered what would happen to the boy now that his dad was gone. Not only had the child lost his guide through life, he lost much of the financial support his dad would have provided.
Maj. Rooney thought of his own kids — and was motivated to do something for these soldiers’ families. Thus, in 2007, in Owasso, Oklahoma, Folds of Honor was born — and spouses and children of deceased and disabled military began receiving scholarships.
“My two girls were the second and third recipients of the foundation,” Major Ed Pulido, co-founder of Folds of Honor and author of the book, “Warrior for Freedom,” told LifeZette. “I was injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq. I lost my left leg, received a traumatic brain injury [TBI], and was wounded on my left side, including my arm.”
After he recovered from the TBI, Maj. Pulido was working for the United Way in Oklahoma, creating programs for veterans, when he connected with Maj. Rooney. Pulido brought his experience with building sustainable veterans’ programs to the fledgling organization. “We realized we could help take care of families that had lost a loved one,” he said, “and empower the disabled to provide educational support and opportunities for their loved ones.”
When the foundation launched in 2007, there was no other support for military families — unless their service member was killed in the line of duty or they were 100-percent disabled.
“Anyone 90-percent disabled and below could not get any educational support for their families — and the number of veterans 90-percent disabled and below is at 87 percent of total disabled,” explained Pulido. “When the GI Bill came along, military members’ benefits could be transferred to family members, but that doesn’t really go that far.”
To date, Folds of Honors has awarded 12,000 scholarships and raised over $75 million dollars. “What we’ve found is that the American people feel that by awarding a scholarship, they are also giving a thank you for a veteran’s military service,” said Maj. Pulido.
Folds of Honors has awarded 12,000 scholarships and raised over $75 million. “The American people are giving a thank you for a veteran’s military service.”
Folds of Honor fundraises through corporate sponsorships (three-quarters of the funding comes through these sponsors); from gifts by individual donors; and from the biggest grassroots golf initiative in the country, known as Patriot Golf Day.
“This fundraiser occurs over Labor Day across the country. People give money and go out and play golf,” said Maj. Pulido. “Clint Eastwood has been involved in a fundraiser, guest speakers come out and tell their story — and we’ve raised $7 million through Patriot Day endeavors.”
During the golf tournament, veterans get out and enjoy the fresh air while meeting others in their community — all for a great cause. “It’s very important for us to use the game of golf not only to get veterans out to play, but to connect them with the general public and begin building those community bonds,” said Maj. Pulido.
Folds of Honor understands that there are over 1 million dependents who will qualify for scholarships in the future. “Our biggest need is dollars in order to give these scholarships — family members can apply for a scholarship for four years at $5,000 a year, so it’s a $20,000 opportunity,” said Pulido. “Companies can get involved, individuals can get involved, and communities can support Patriot Golf Day.”
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The two majors encourage others to get involved. “Honor the sacrifice and understand the need,” said Maj. Pulido. “No matter what your politics, this isn’t a red issue or a blue issue — it’s a red, white, and blue opportunity. The white stands for our military families — and with all three colors we have a great America.”
Veterans applaud the mission of Folds of Honor. “It’s a great program, and hands down I support it,” Ron Gomes, a Navy veteran and father from Weston, Massachusetts, told LifeZette.
“The impact is felt when a recipient graduates and goes on to improve his or her community,” said Maj. Pulido. “For all Americans, this is just such a worthwhile cause.”
Lisa Ferrari is a freelance writer from Nottingham, New Hampshire.