One of the constant reminders of the cost of endless wars is the human toll they exact. This is not just confined to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, but to their families too. Every time a warrior is either killed or seriously wounded in battle, his or her family is left to pick up the pieces. Oftentimes, they are unprepared, mentally, or financially to handle the crisis.
Troops in the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), who are the tip of the spear for our military operations overseas in about 100 or more countries, face the danger more than any others. Special operations troops make up less than five percent of the force but have been paying the ultimate price in far greater numbers than the conventional troops: In the past few years, SOF accounted for about 75 percent of the casualties.
But they can take solace in the fact that, if they indeed pay the ultimate price, there is the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) to take care of their families. The SOWF supports the families of our fallen and severely wounded Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps special operations personnel. While the different services have their own foundations — for example, the SEALs and Green Berets have excellent foundations that help the service members and their families in times of need — the SOWF is there for all members of the services that serve under the SOCOM umbrella.
SOFREP.com had the opportunity to sit down with the President and CEO of SOWF, Clayton Hutmacher, and speak about the outstanding work that SOWF does for the families of SOF. Hutmacher is a retired Major General who commanded at every level of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. So he is very familiar with the realities of the situation.
Hutmacher also explained that if conventional troops are assigned to a SOF unit during deployment, that they are covered as well. He mentioned the recent tragedy of Shannon Kent, the Navy intelligence specialist who was assigned to a Special Forces unit and was killed by a suicide bomber. Her children are now covered through SOWF for their education.
SOWF was born 40 years ago, out of the ashes of the catastrophe at Desert One, during the failed Iran rescue mission “Operation Eagle Claw.” The foundation has grown every year since then.
SOWF is proactive. Within 60 days of being notified of a death or serious injury by the Care Coalition at SOCOM, SOWF reaches out to the families and immediately puts them into the database. “There is no long application process,” Hutmacher said. “Once we enter a family into the system, they’re in.”
The foundation provides full scholarships to the surviving children of any special operator that has been killed in the line of duty. It also offers pre-kindergarten education and home professional tutoring, academic guidance counseling, college application preparation, and visits to college campuses. It also offers classes for students to better prepare them for the rigors of an active and busy college workload. The foundation pays a stipend for internships and also has a referral service for internships.
SOWF currently has over 145 young adults enrolled in college through its scholarship programs. Hutmacher writes personal cards to every one of them who are maintaining a 3.5 GPA as a means to keep in touch. “It is an opportunity for the kids to reach their full potential via a quality education without crippling debt. [This] is what I would want for my own kids.”
For preschool, the foundation pays up to $8,000 per child, per year, an increase of $3,000 from just a year ago. “We found that almost a third of our families had been paying out of their own pocket,” Hutmacher said.
“From elementary school, middle school, and high school, the kids have unlimited access to tutoring of any kind, which includes SAT, ACP prep. There is no cap on cost or funding.”
Over half of the internships that the foundation sets up with students result in a job offer. The kids with special needs are taken care of as well. The foundation supports them with up to $20,000 a year up until they turn 23.
“Last year, 90 percent of our kids who graduated from high school went on to college, that is about 20 percent higher than the national average. And 93 percent of our kids in college graduated in five years or less, which is 30 percent higher than the national average.” About 20 percent of these college graduates pursue an advanced degree.
One of the programs that the foundation is most proud of is a camp they run for high school seniors called the “EPIC Program” which stands for Education, Preparation, Information Conference. There, the students learn time management, study skills, and get help on writing essays for college, among other lessons. Many of the graduates come back to mentor the younger kids in the program. “It is a week-long event and the results have been awesome,” Hutmacher said.
The need for SOWF’s programs continues to grow. Last year, Special Operations units lost 40 troops which left 80 kids without one of their parents. Currently, there are 881 children in the SOWF program.
Sadly, some of the children are born after their fathers have been killed in action. Hutmacher used one example of a child born in March of 2019, whose father was killed in late 2018. “She’ll be in the class of 2042,” he said. “But we are making a commitment that we will be here for you,” he added.
When a severely wounded, injured, or ill warrior is hospitalized, the foundation immediately wires the family a check for $5,000. This covers any travel, lodging, and other expenses so that family members can travel to and be alongside their loved ones. If that special operator is going to be hospitalized for an extended period, then the foundation can send the family another $5,000 to help cover additional costs.
“We maintain a very close relationship with our families,” Hutmacher said.
The core values of SOWF are Integrity, Stewardship, and Commitment. And under their stewardship, SOWF received its 14th consecutive 4-star rating for its financial efficiency by the leading watchdog group Charity Navigator. The foundation’s administrative overhead costs hover around five percent every year. All of the financials of SOWF are clearly posted on its website; transparency is very much a strong suit.
While there are some corporate donations, the vast majority of their operating funds come from donations from citizens and military members.
“Taking care of our fallen members’ families is really an important consideration for many SOF operators, and several have told me as such, that they know, if something happens to them, then their children and families will be taken care of… that’s the least we can do,” Hutmacher said.
“All of those memorials, and the names that we engrave on the memorials that each Special Operations unit has to honor their fallen, is what I call the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in regards to the tragedy that has happened,” he said, referring to his own time as the Commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
“Every name has their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands… wives, sons, and daughters whose lives were changed instantly…in the blink of an eye. Our commitment is to address that tragedy that is just beginning when they lose a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. It is an important calling, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
To learn more about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and to donate to its cause, check out their website.