For many of us, Veterans Day serves as a brief reminder of the sacrifice that our past and present armed service members make in order to protect the freedom we all enjoy. For others, that sacrifice is an ever-present consideration. Military men and women have paid a toll for which we cannot reimburse them. But there are ways to extend our gratitude to the military community.
As a decorated Air Force veteran himself, Major Dan Rooney felt a strong calling to give back 11 years ago, acknowledging that freedom truly isn’t free. Rooney is the first person in the world to pilot F-16 fighter jets and become a PGA Golf Professional. He’s a three-tour combat veteran and has twice been awarded the USAF Top Gun award.
After returning from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Rooney was flying into Grand Rapids, MI on a civilian flight. As he boarded the aircraft, he saw a young corporal in Army greens seated in first class. At the end of the flight, the captain announced that there’s a hero onboard.
Rooney’s mind returned to the corporal seated in first class, but the Captain explained that the flight was carrying the remains of Corporal Brock Bucklin, and that his identical twin brother, Corporal Brad Bucklin, was also onboard and had brought his deceased brother home.
The captain asked that everyone remain seated until the soldier’s remains had been removed from cargo. Looking out the round window, Rooney saw the Bucklin family standing on the tarmac, including Bucklin’s four-year-old son. After the ceremony concluded, Rooney looked up to find that half the plane had deboarded. At that moment he knew that he’d been called on a mission.
Rooney founded Folds of Honor in 2007. It’s a non-profit organization that provides educational scholarships to the spouses and children of our nation’s fallen and disabled service members. To date, the charity has raised over $100 million and provided over 16,000 scholarships. These scholarships are split into two categories: a Children’s Fund for private and home school, and a Higher Education Fund for college or vocational school.
For the trades, too
Many organizations that provide scholarship funding do so only for college educations. Folds of Honor, on the other hand, provides funding for trade school programs in addition to college.
“Folds of Honor provides up to $5,000 per year for the student’s unmet expenses,” said Kevin Christensen, Marketing Supervisor for Folds of Honor. “The student’s choice of vocation or trade is entirely up to them, the school just needs to be accredited and recognized by the state and federal government.”
This coming school year, Folds of Honor is likely to award 4,000 scholarships among roughly 5,000 applicants.
“Last year, trade and vocational schools accounted for roughly 10% of our applicants, but that number has been on the rise,” explained Christensen. “I think this is because of the price difference between college and trade school. The Folds of Honor scholarship usually covers most, if not all, of an annual trade school tuition fee.”
Folds of Honor has several heavy-hitting corporate sponsors, like Budweiser, The Rite Aid Foundation, PGA, USGA, Southwest Airlines, Fox Sports, Coca Cola, Jimmy Johns, Bushnell and more. But individual sponsors contribute greatly to the cause as well, through the Folds of Honor Wingman program.
“The Wingman program is a way for patriots like you and me to donate and join our ranks.” said Christensen. “It requires a minimum $13 donation each month – one dollar for each of the 13 folds needed to bring the burial flag to its triangular shape. We started the program eight years ago, and currently have over 2,700 Wingmen who donate anywhere from $13 to $1,000 each month.”
>> Click here for more information on the Wingman program.
Anyone can also support the cause by spreading awareness, both to other perspective sponsors or families of veterans who may be eligible.
Eligibility and application
“We’ve found that the skilled trades are ‘veteran heavy,’ meaning that there are a lot of veterans currently working in the trades,” continued Christensen. “We’d like more of them to know that, if they meet the requirements, their spouse or child is eligible for a scholarship.
Eligibility is based on the merit of the service member, not the child (or spouse). Children must have a parent who is at least 10% disabled, have received the Purple Heart, or was killed in action or line of duty for the Higher Education scholarship and 90% or higher for Children’s Fund. Once an applicant has proven this, the only other piece of information they need to provide is the school they plan to attend.
The application period is open two months of the year, from February 1st to March 31st. The selected applicants are then awarded the scholarship for the following school year. It’s a yearly scholarship, so applications must be submitted each year, but Folds of Honor tries to award the scholarship consecutive years for as long as the student is in school.
“We’re always looking for new applicants, so please spread the word,” said Christensen. “We want to do everything we can to honor the sacrifice that our nation’s servicemen and women have made.”
>Click here to learn a lot more about Folds of Honor and see the organization in action by watching their impact and hearing the stories of their recipient families.