CSAF helps dedicate Alaska's first Fisher House

  • Published
  • By Chris McCann
  • Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz helped dedicate the new Alaska Fisher House in a ceremony here Feb. 17.

The 56th Fisher House to be built, it is the only one of its kind in Alaska, and has already hosted a military family from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, whose newborn is in the intensive care unit in an Anchorage hospital. "Sometimes you get lost with the metrics," said Fisher House Foundation president Dave Coker.

"It's important not to forget that every number is a person, a family." The Alaska Fisher House has been the work of three years of planning, which had to take into account Alaska's short building seasons, coordination and timing.

Zachary Fisher, prominent in New York real estate, was a benefactor of the U.S. Armed Forces throughout his life. Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House foundation and Zachary Fisher's nephew, was on hand for the celebration, and related some of his uncle's story.

The son of Russian immigrants, Zachary Fisher felt that there was no more underappreciated group than the military, his nephew said. Although he could not serve in World War II due to a leg injury, he dedicated his life to the service of service members. He wanted his legacy of Fisher Houses to be not only livable, but as nice as his own home.

"He wanted to give (service members) something he'd want to stay in," Ken Fisher said. "The philosophy is very simple behind the Fisher House. It began with my uncle's desire to give back to the nation that allowed him to prosper.

"Family members of those who are sick or wounded can stay free of charge for as long as the hospital stay dictates. It eases the financial burden they don't need right now. The houses form a support system - they might be 12 families, and the 12 families become one. They share the joy of the good days, and the sorrow of the bad days." While each guest room has a private bath so families can also be alone, the living and kitchen areas are shared.

"The most important thing is the financial burden," Ken Fisher said. "Bills still come, children still need to be raised. They don't need to wonder how they're going to pay for (lodging)." While the homes use one designer, they're each decorated with a local theme, said Jody Fisher, senior vice president of the Fisher House Foundation's public relations firm.

Each house is entirely built and stocked by the foundation, then turned over to the government, where service members, families and civilians maintain it, she said. "It's something tangible, you can touch and see and take pride in," said Ken Fisher. "You only have to come here to see what the impact is."

The JBER Fisher House has some unique features - not including the moose that browse the landscaping. "When I saw pictures of the house in progress, I was struck by the beauty and the background, and the colors - and that there's no snow on the walkways," Ken Fisher said.

"There are heated sidewalks; you'll never have to shovel a bit of snow away from that Fisher House." Col. Robert Evans, 673d Air Base Wing and JBER commander, spoke at an official ceremony inside the JBER Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs Joint Venture Hospital. "We're thrilled to have a Fisher House on JBER," he said.

"There are no words, only grateful hearts. The generosity and compassion of the Fisher family is evident in the Alaska Fisher House." Evans also mentioned the newly-opened Lynx wing of the hospital, which offers pain management, neurology and behavioral health clinics, as well as a traumatic brain injury clinic - all frequently used by service members wounded in battle.

Service members can, when medically appropriate, bypass major military treatment centers and come home, Evans said. "These families now have a home," he said, pointing out that the Fisher House is on the grounds of the hospital.

"They can provide an additional measure of peace of mind and physical comfort." Fisher Houses in the U.S. and Germany provided 17,000 families last year with more than 14 million nights of lodging, said Ken Fisher.

"This is the first Fisher House in the Pacific area," Schwartz said. "We're eternally grateful for what this home represents. It's so important that we offer support to families when they're most in need, and few people are as willing and ready to do this as Ken Fisher and the Fisher House Foundation."

Ken Fisher said it is not uncommon to hear people thank service members in airports and train station. "But often forgotten are those who stand beside them, their families," he said. "Deployment does not bring the world to a grinding halt. They sacrifice too."

The foundation plans to build 24 more houses in the next five years. They also fund the Hero Miles program, which helps bring other family members to Fisher Houses to help relieve the primary caregivers, and sponsor a scholarship fund.

On April 23, they will break ground for Fisher House U.K., for British servicemembers. A plaque was presented to Jeffrey Temple, manager of the house, by retired Medal of Honor recipient Army Maj. Drew Dix.

"I'm proud to present this to the Fisher House, on behalf of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the other 82 living recipients," Dix said. "The Fisher House Foundation and corporate donors do far more than provide resources - they provide a way for citizens to honor service members." Ken Fisher said it all comes back to honoring the military and honoring families. "Saying 'Thank you for your service' is no longer enough," he said.