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Altman: With commandos taking brunt of battle, Tampa charity in high demand

 
Ebony Sherrill is one of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation's college graduates. She is one of three  children of Maj. Geoffrey Sherrill, who lost his life in 1996 while assigned to the Army's 3rd Special Forces Group.  Ebony is a recent graduate of Stevenson University. [Photo courtesy of Special Operations Warrior Foundation]
Ebony Sherrill is one of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation's college graduates. She is one of three children of Maj. Geoffrey Sherrill, who lost his life in 1996 while assigned to the Army's 3rd Special Forces Group. Ebony is a recent graduate of Stevenson University. [Photo courtesy of Special Operations Warrior Foundation]
Published Nov. 24, 2016

Times are tough for U.S. commandos, who are leading the fight against jihadis around the globe.

Seven Green Berets have been killed in action since Oct. 4, with another killed in a training accident in Key West. And in the past year, the number of commandos severely wounded has nearly doubled, from 18 last year to 31 so far this year, according to a Tampa charitable organization.

"We just had another guy wounded and hospitalized at the burn ward in San Antonio," said Joe Maguire, a retired SEAL vice admiral, who runs the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The group helps the wounded and families of fallen Navy SEALs and Special Warfare boat crews, Army Green Beret, Delta Force and Rangers, and Air Force and Marine special operators.

The non-profit provides full-ride scholarships to the children of fallen commandos, as well as a $5,000 immediate payment to the wounded to help defray mounting costs.

The uptick in deaths and injuries is a clear indication, Maguire said, that U.S. contributions to the ground fighting in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere are being led by "special operators who are out there on the pointy end of the spear for their country."

It used to be that commandos were supporting the efforts of conventional forces. But in the battle against jihadis, who are combining hit-and-run tactics with entrenched urban defense while using civilians as human shields, "special operators are the supported force," Maguire said. "The main effort in the global war on terrorism."

And they are paying a heavy price.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 407 commandos have been killed in action, according to U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base.

They have left behind children who will get secondary education thanks to the organization, Maguire said.

Since its founding a decade ago, the foundation has spent nearly $8 million in tuition, counselors and other costs associated with college, Maguire said.

The foundation is helping keep 154 students of fallen commandos in college right now, he said, with 15 set to graduate in December. But help begins even before college: The foundation tracks students from kindergarten on, providing free tutoring and guidance counseling, as well.

In June, 26 of 27 high school students in the program went on to college, with the other student entering the military.

The commitment is enduring. The children of the most recent fallen commandos won't be entering college until 2034.

"When I reach out to the widows, I make a solemn pledge," said Maguire, who anticipates that the foundation will fund the college education of about 60 students per year into the future.

That's why Maguire is on the road three out of every four weeks, working to boost a foundation fund now at about $100 million.

Given the age of the commando force, the number of children they have and the death rate, Maguire estimates the foundation needs nearly twice that to meet its goals. And as commandos continue to lead the fight, the need will only increase.

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For more information, or to contribute, go to specialops.org.

• • •

The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in ongoing operations.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 31 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 26 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; and one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya.

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.