"We all feel like we’re making a difference in other people’s lives, and that gives us a sense of belonging.”
It’s an adage as old as the military itself: The Army takes care of its own.
That saying is especially true for the small communities of special operators who often work behind the scenes, with little or no fanfare. Since 2011, Northwest Florida has been home to one component of those communities, the Green Berets of the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
The work that Green Berets perform is inherently dangerous, and their frequent deployments make them more susceptible to serious injuries and even death. The Green Beret Foundation is designed to meet the unique needs of this special community.
Founded in 2009 by Aaron Anderson, a former Special Forces member who was wounded in combat, the foundation provides direct and continuous support to the Green Beret community and its families. The foundation provides direct financial assistance to Green Berets who are injured in battle, as well as a wide array of support to Special Forces members and their families facing other challenges.
According to its website, the foundation has helped more than a thousand families as they continue to navigate the challenges of their new lives, and has spent more than $6 million in direct support to the Green Beret community.
When a Green Beret is hospitalized due to a combat-related injury, the foundation sends a check for $1,000 to cover incidental expenses, along with a rucksack filled with supplies to help during the hospital stay.
“The organization’s whole mission is to provide physical, emotional and financial support to Green Berets and their families,” said Lindsey Schiro, whose husband is a member of the 7th SFG (A). “It has really helped my husband’s teammates in their time of need.”
Last October, Schiro founded a local chapter of the Steel Magnolias, a subdivision of the Green Beret Foundation. The Steel Mags, as they like to be called, is made up of wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of Green Berets.
“The nature of being in the Special Forces is that our husbands are sent to every corner of the world,” Schiro said. “The Steel Mags is a real sisterhood in that we support each other in a way that no one else can.”
The local group’s 35 members are dedicated to helping Green Beret families who have lost a member, or whose loved one has been injured in the line of duty, Schiro said.
“We organize meals for the families, and send care packages to the troops,” she said.
In addition to monthly meetings at members’ homes or local restaurants, the Steel Mags host fundraisers for the Green Beret Foundation. Last month, they sponsored a shooting competition that benefited both the foundation and local law enforcement groups.
“We are hoping to make that an annual event,” Schiro said. “We also plan to have another event around Veterans Day.”
When a Green Beret is killed in action, the foundation reaches out to his family to provide ongoing support.
“The Green Beret Foundation considers our own Gold Star families to be one of the most important groups in our community,” said Jen Paquette, the foundation's executive director. “We have a duty to remain in close contact with those who have lost a Green Beret. Our Gold Star support includes payment of funeral costs not covered by the military, continuous engagement with the families to identify gaps in resources, maintaining a close connection with the families, and ultimately fostering a lifelong bond to build a stronger Green Beret Family.”
The foundation provides assistance to Green Berets and their families when other needs arise as well. After ensuring that the assistance is not available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the foundation will arrange to pay private vendors for medical supplies and other services, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy for traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, and laser nerve therapies.
The organization also offers scholarships to Green Beret dependents, and has begun a new program called “The Next Ridgeline” to help Special Forces members transition from Army to civilian life.
Individuals start the program approximately six months prior to leaving the military, and continue using its services as they begin the next chapter of their career. The program works with other veterans organizations to provide tailored assistance to fit each Green Beret’s needs.
According to Schiro, the Green Beret Foundation’s programs, in particular the Steel Magnolias, offer Special Forces families a sense of community that might otherwise be missing in their lives.
“We are often far from home and our own families,” Schiro said. “Taking part in the Steel Magnolias gives me a sense of purpose. We all feel like we’re making a difference in other people’s lives, and that gives us a sense of belonging.”