News>Fisher House, Meditation Pavilion for families of fallen dedicated
Kenneth Fisher, Fisher House Foundation chairman, talks with Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley on Nov. 10, 2010, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., before the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen dedication ceremony. The foundation built the 50th Fisher House at Dover to support families visiting the base for dignified transfers of their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
The 50th and newest Fisher House, the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., was dedicated Nov. 10, 2010. This house is the first from the Fisher Foundation which not only will serve families of military personnel and veterans who are hospitalized, but also serve the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations mission, lodging families who travel to Dover AFB to witness the dignified transfer of their loved one. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz consoles Judy Faunce of Wilmington, Del., following a dedication ceremony of the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen on Nov. 10, 2010, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Mrs. Faunce is the mother of U.S. Army Capt. Brian Faunce, who was killed in service in 2003. The Fisher House Foundation built the 50th Fisher House at Dover to support families visiting the base for dignified transfers of their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Celebrity talk show host Montel Williams talks with Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Nov. 10, 2010. The three helped dedicate the new Fisher House for Families of the Fallen during a ceremony there. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
Gail Donley, wife of Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, and Suzie Schwartz, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, listen to speeches during the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen dedication ceremony on Nov. 10, 2010, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The Fisher House Foundation built the 50th Fisher House at Dover to support families visiting the base for dignified transfers of their loved ones. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)
by Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
11/11/2010 - DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS) -- A serene, stone-front home along a private road is now a place of comfort for family members awaiting the dignified transfer of their loved ones.
During a pre-Veterans Day ceremony here Nov. 10, family members of the fallen joined military officials and TV personality Montel Williams, himself a veteran, for a ribbon-cutting and dedication of the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen and the adjacent Meditation Pavilion.
Donated by the Fisher House Foundation and its Chairman, Ken Fisher, the communal nine-suite 8,462 square-foot home and 1,714 square-foot pavilion provides short-term, on-base lodging for families facing perhaps their most difficult moment.
In his remarks during the ceremony, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley described the unique relationship between servicemembers and those whose family members have made the ultimate sacrifice.
"For the families of the fallen, each measure we take -- each act, each word -- reflects acknowledgement of their special bonds with our military: you with us, us with you, forever," Secretary Donley said.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz personally thanked all family members for what he said is all too often unrecognized sacrifice.
"It is our families who provide love and support, giving deeply personal meaning and distinct purpose to the professional efforts of all those who serve," General Schwartz said. "With our collective efforts, we can begin to provide an additional measure of comfort and peace of mind, even if incomplete, to our nation's most selfless and giving patriots: the families of the fallen."
Special guests at the ceremony included members of American Gold Star Mothers, an organization comprised of women who have lost sons or daughters in the line of duty.
The mothers donned their organization's signature white, symbolizing sacrifice, and gathered in support of the completion of the 50th Fisher House, the first of its kind for families of fallen rather than wounded warriors or other service members undergoing medical treament.
Since January, the organization raised more than $60,000 toward completion of the house, situated near the Department of Defense's sole mortuary overseen by the Air Force.
American Gold Star Mothers National President Molly Morel, whose son died in 2004, said the Dover-based Fisher House has personal significance to her and other mothers in the organization.
"We always hope that there's not going to be another member who is eligible to join our organization, because we're composed of mothers who've lost a child in military service, whether through results of (post-traumatic stress disorder), training accidents, or otherwise," Ms. Morel said.
"I don't have to explain my emotions to another Gold Star Mother," she said. "Our communities offer a healing process for us, and I can't think of a better place to have this newest special home."
Suzie Schwartz, wife of General Schwartz, shared Ms. Morel's sentiments.
"We've come full circle, from the beginning when we recognized the need for the Center for the Families of the Fallen," Mrs. Schwartz said. "Now we have a place where family members are surrounded by people who will care for them during their worst moment, and no one does it better than the Fisher House."
With a military career spanning 22-years across two branches of service, former Marine Corps enlistee and U.S. Naval Academy graduate Mr. Williams said he, too, understands the specialized needs of grieving military families, which inspired him to seek an organization that shared his passion for the cause.
"Plain and simple, I sought out a program that was just more than lip service for our troops," Mr. Williams said. "I wanted to do something tangible, so that we could give something back to families. When I connected with the Fisher House Foundation, I immediately wanted to get involved."
Mr. Williams lauded the "solution-oriented" mindset of Mr. Fisher, who formulated a team of dedicated architects and construction specialists and charged them with the nearly impossible challenge of building 14 homes in a matter of months. On May 1, Mr. Fisher began planning to build the Dover-based Fisher House.
"This is not just a cause and not just a continuation of a legacy, but a passion," Mr. Fisher said. "This is a labor of love and is really about giving these family members options that they didn't have before, whether through solitude, prayer or the company of other families of the fallen."
As families of all faiths and beliefs continue to arrive here, Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Wesley Smith said the Meditation Pavilion will hopefully provide a place for bereaved relatives to begin the healing process.
"We're grateful to the families who've loaned their husbands, wives, sons and daughters to the country, some of whom made the ultimate sacrifice," said Colonel Smith, the chief of chaplains staff officer at the Pentagon. "They really are heroes, right along with their fallen Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine."
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Robert Hedelund, the warfighting lab commanding general in Quantico, Va., said the Fisher House Foundation exemplifies one of many layers of commitment to family members across the services.
"We hope that, through organizations like the Fisher House, we can contribute to a family's healing," General Hedelund said. "There is no amount of money or well-wishing that will solve all of a grieving family's problems, but every bit helps, and this is but one way to make a life-long commitment to these families."
With at least one Fisher House at every major military installation that hosts a major medical facility, the homes annually accommodate nearly 12,000 families and made nearly 3 million days of lodging available to family members since the program began in 1990. There is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House.