August 6, 2011, was a black day for the Navy’s SEAL Teams, for the U.S. Special Operations Command writ large, and for the country as a whole. On that day, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter — bearing the call sign “Extortion 17” — and carrying 17 SEALs, five Naval Special Warfare support personnel, three Air Force Special Operations personnel, five Army aviation crewmen, as well as eight Afghans and a U.S. military working dog, was shot down in Afghanistan, killing all on board.
The loss of life for the Navy’s SEAL community surpassed that of Operation RED WINGS in 2005, also in Afghanistan, as the greatest single loss of life for the community in its history. For the SEALs, it was a staggering blow, and one that would lead to the creation of a support organization, founded and run by SEALs, and dedicated to supporting SEALs and their families.
Thus, the SEAL Legacy Foundation was born in 2011, out of the ashes of that terrible day. In just five years, the foundation has provided more than $3 million in direct support to SEALs and their families, and over $1 million in educational scholarships.
On November 11, 2016, the foundation held its 6th annual SEAL Legacy Foundation Benefit and Gala with a sold-out dinner and program in Dallas, Texas, to continue to raise money for the SEAL community. According to Commander (SEAL) Mark McGinnis, managing director of the foundation, “it was the most successful event in our history.”
Not surprisingly, the foundation’s leadership is heavy on active duty and former SEALs, befitting an organization that prides itself on being run by, and for, Navy SEALs. The current chairman is retired Master Chief (SEAL) Dr. Shawn Johnson; the vice chairman is the current Command Master Chief (SEAL) of Naval Special Warfare Group TWO, Chris Brownell; and three additional board members are also current or retired Navy SEALs. [As an aside, this author served with Master Chief Brownell at SEAL Team EIGHT, back when the latter was a platoon chief, and the former was a lowly junior officer. Good times.]
The 2016 benefit and gala was presented by AdvoCare, and held at Union Station, on Veteran’s Day. The money raised will provide support to the families of wounded and fallen Navy SEALs, as well as educational assistance for SEALs and their families, and other charitable causes benefiting the SEAL community.
That monetary assistance could include financial aid for wounded SEALs, to help with needed medical and rehabilitation care, as well as assistance for other members of the SEAL community in need of financial help. A recent recipient of foundation assistance, for example, was a SEAL undergoing expensive cancer treatments.
Over 500 guests attended the event, which featured both a live and silent auction, a memorial display honoring each of the 87 SEALs who have fallen since 9/11/2001, speeches from former SEALs, and a special presentation of the Unsung Hero Award and the SEAL Legacy Award. Rear Admiral SEAL (Retired) Scott P. Moore, a former commander of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), as well as a former counterterrorism specialist on the National Security Council (NSC), was the keynote speaker.
Additional speakers included McGinnis; former SEAL and founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project, Nick Etten, whose young son received support while fighting cancer; and retired Master Chief (SEAL) Harry Bologna, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2015, losing both of his legs to a land mine. Bologna received foundation aid to assist with his rehabilitation, given that he was out of the military when he incurred his injuries.
Admiral Moore’s keynote speech focused on the current state of U.S. Special Operations Forces throughout the world. Moore described several successful operations in which he partook, against Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, during the time he served in country. Moore also described the intensity of the operational tempo for SEALs in the global war on terrorism (GWOT), and the need to support them when they become injured. In addition, he stressed the need to constantly support SEAL families, in both times of war as well as peace.
In one particularly touching vignette, Moore described his team’s arrival back at an American base following a night operation in Afghanistan, only to be told that they needed to go right back to the tactical operations center for a follow-on assignment. Slightly dejected, but determined nonetheless to jump right into another operation, the team walked in instead to find then-President George W. Bush waiting for them, during a surprise visit to the war zone. Bush proceeded to hug each and every member of the SEAL element, reportedly telling them, “Ya’ll keep killing them bastards, y’hear!”
The room in which the benefit and gala was held was decorated along its walls by candles, narratives, and pictures for each and every SEAL who has fallen since 9/11. Additionally, commemorative helmets like those worn by students during BUD/S training were displayed on each table, with each helmet bearing the name of a fallen SEAL. Pictures from the benefit can be seen here.
Over 50 active and former SEALs attended the benefit, which was emceed by media personality Amber Smith, pictured at top. The Unsung Hero Award honoree was Jim Campbell. The SEAL Legacy Award honorees were Ray Hunt and Norman Chambers.
Honorary chairs of the 2016 event included former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, former NFL legend Roger Staubach, well-known oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, Barry Andrews, Norman Chambers, Paul Loyd, Penny Loyd, Mike McGuire, and Brian Connolly. The honorary chairs have contributed funding to the organization, and helped support the foundation in many ways, according to its board members.
You can donate to the SEAL Legacy Foundation here. You can also attend the 2017 benefit and gala by purchasing tickets at differing levels of support, when they become available on the foundation’s website. All proceeds go toward supporting the foundation’s mission of aiding SEALs and their families.
(Featured image courtesy of Ross Skeegan).