When noticing a uniformed servicewoman and or serviceman in public, what do you do? Give a quick smile or nod? Shake their hand and say “Thank you for your service?” Take care of their bill in a restaurant, gas station or in line at the grocery store? Immediately go home and donate to a veteran or military site? Most of us civilian types do all of the above. The truth is most military personnel and their families, wounded (visible or invisible), transitioning to civilian life, or veterans need more than a thank you.
Military.com points out that our military here in the United States is comprised of five armed service branches; Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. Generally, there are three categories of military personnel; active duty (full time soldiers and sailors), reserve and guard forces (usually work a civilian job, but can be called to full-time military duty), and veterans and retirees (past members of the military).
Then there are the military families; the husbands, wives, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and grandparents. In fact, many military families have more than one family member enlisted in some form of military service. Of the great sacrifices made by our servicewomen and men, the families give a lot too. Not only by lending their family member(s) to our government to defend the United States and fight for the freedom(s) of others, but adjusting to life that can change on a dime at any time, and to any degree.
“The United States operates in over 100 countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Bahrain, Brazil, South Korea, Australia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan and many more.” – Military.com
While many of us in the United States do what we can to show appreciation, respect, and reverence to our servicewomen and men, one man does enough for an entire country. Meet Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher House Foundation and Co-CEO of this year’s Invictus Games 2016 at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Since 1990, The Fisher House Foundation, Inc. has served more than 277,000 families and provided over 6 million days of lodging, saving them more than $200 million in lodging and transportation costs. In 1993, Fisher House was established as the national not-for-profit organization to assist in the coordination of private support and encourage public support for the Fisher House program. Ken Fisher joined this longtime family organization as Vice Chairman in 2000, and was named Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Office in 2003.
“Fisher House offers a home away from home for families of wounded, injured or ill servicemen and women for no charge as long as the hospital stay dictates. Families can stay in a house as long as they need to. The best part about the Fisher House program is the support system that forms in the house. The financial burden is removed but now they have psychological support. They can lean on each other. They share the joy of the good days. They share the sorrow of the bad because, not every story has a happy ending but in the end, they’re all together,” shares Mr. Fisher.
“The military family, the entire unit serves, not just the person in uniform. so when a person is deployed, the family has hardship and has burdens that they really can’t quantify. When they get wounded, their world doesn’t stop. Bills have to be paid, mortgages, children have to be raised, and that’s where Fisher House comes in.” – Ken Fisher
Watch our exclusive interview with Ken Fisher here:
“It’s a home in every since of the word,” shares Mr. Fisher. “When you walk into the house, it’s a house when you walk in. The houses are designed to encourage interaction. When you stay in a hotel and you close the door behind you, that aside from tv or the Internet, ends your exposure to the outside world.”
He continues, “If you don’t want to be alone, you can go downstairs to one of the common areas; the kitchen, the formal dining room, the sitting room, and you can talk to each other and share your experiences. That’s the brick and mortar of what makes these houses homes. We’re proud of that.” [Take a Virtual Tour here: https://youtu.be/LwXUfDY7hhs]
In Florida, we are very fortunate to have five Fisher House locations for Servicemembers and their families to visit when needed. “Five, with a sixth one coming,” says Fisher. “There’s (a Fisher House) in Tampa now because there is a Level One Polytrauma Center. We’re going to build a second one in Tampa because of the load that it carries. Tampa is one of the finer hospitals in the country operated by the VA. We are more than proud to put a house there in the first place, and add a second because it’s needed.”
“The Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center is one of five facilities in the country designed to provide intensive rehabilitative care to Veterans and Servicemembers who have experienced severe injuries (including brain injuries) to more than one organ system.” – United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Upon hearing of the Invictus Games presented by Jaguar Land Rover and led by England’s Prince Harry, Mr. Fisher knew Fisher House had to be part of this sporting event. “We were the only American sponsor in the Inaugural (Invictus) Games in 2014 in London. When the idea came to bring it to the United States we seemed like a logical candidate to do that since we had familiarity with the games,” he says. “We determined that the best place to have the games would be Orlando, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.”
For those who don’t know, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida is 255 acres of athletic spirit. Located in the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll find world-class facilities with the ability of hosting more than 60 sports. “This really mimics an Olympic park, as close as it could be,” he says. “All of the athletes are staying together at Shades of Green, which was supplied by the Department of Defense. That serves as the ‘Olympic Village,’ if you will.”
I’m ashamed to admit, being (literally) a neighbor of Walt Disney World here in Orlando, I never knew about Shades of Green and how it serves our local and national military community. Upon researching this post, I was very happy to discover more information about it.
According to their website, Shades of Green opened in 1994 and is exclusive to servicemembers. This resort is a bonafide Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC), and is the only one in the Continental United States operated by the United States Army in support of all military branches offering tax-free accommodations! There are 583 rooms that can sleep up to five people each. This includes a Wounded Warrior suite and 23 rooms designed to meet Americans with Disabilities guidelines, all with complimentary WiFi. How wonderful!
As with the communal environment of Fisher House homes, “The families, almost 1,000 family and friends will also stay together at (Disney’s) Coronado Springs. It’s going to be a very enriching experience, not only for the athletes but for the families and friends. They’ll be able to share experiences, tell stories, tell each other how they got over certain issues. It’s just going to be a win-win for everybody,” Mr. Fisher continues.
Of the ten competitive sports at this year’s Invictus Games in Orlando including; archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, track and field, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis, Mr. Fisher shares a secret. “I’m not supposed to tell you this but, my favorite sport is Wheelchair Rugby. They use specially fitted wheelchairs, and it very difficult to explain. It’s something that has to be seen. It is all out competition, they’re in it to win. They’re banging into each other, flipping each other over, and nobody looks back,” he says with a smile.
“I’ve given my life to (Fisher House) for almost 20 years. While I’ve been around (service members) at their best and their worst, I still don’t fully understand,” he says. “I can tell you one thing. The resolve of these men and women, this unconquerable spirit, that we call Invictus, this is something that they are really proud of; that nothing is going to stop them.” – Ken Fisher
With his many years of service to our military, its personnel and families, one would assume Mr. Fisher a Veteran. Actually, he’s not – but he’s as close to one as they come. “I am a civilian. This is my way of serving; to honor the sacrifices that have been made on behalf of my family and other families of this nation. We can never forget about the burdens and the sacrifices that are made by one percent of the population,” says Mr. Fisher.
Of the 70 Fisher Houses located on 24 military installations and 27 VA medical centers, the Fisher House Foundation, and Mr. Fisher’s personal philanthropic efforts mustn’t be misunderstood. “This is not something that we consider to be charity,” states Mr. Fisher. “This is something we consider to be our duty as Americans. These men and women, as I’ve said before, make sacrifices that the average American has no concept of. When they’re wounded, the burdens just increase by a factor of a hundred. This nation needs to do a better job of honoring their sacrifices.”
Mr. Fisher’s enthusiasm and passion for the Invictus Games and its athletes is evident, and what a great way to spread awareness! He says, “It’s the use of sports in the recovery process, to empower, to restore self-esteem, to give them their self-confidence back. If we can use these games to also highlight the unseen wounds formed, the psychological illnesses that these men and women bring back from war and the horrors of war – post traumatic stress and post traumatic brain injury – we shine the light on this issue.”
“If we can save one Veteran’s life, if we can get them off the couch and back into the game by watching what is possible, then the Invictus Games have more than accomplished what we set out to.” – Ken Fisher on Invictus Games Orlando
Tickets for this year’s Invictus Games Orlando Presented by Jaguar Land Rover are available now at www.invictusgames2016.org, and I highly encourage you to purchase tickets soon and stop by the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on May 8-12, if you are local, or watch on ESPN 2 & 3 if you are not.
I’ve included a comprehensive guide to Invictus Games Orlando and the Invictus Games Symposium on Invisible Wounds (presented by the George W. Bush Institute) for those planning on attending in person, as well as those who will watch from home or on the web, on CentralFloridaTop5.com. You can read it here: http://centralfloridatop5.com/2016/05/04/top-5-things-to-know-about-invictus-games-2016-in-orlando/ [Full disclosure: I am the current Managing Editor of Central Florida Top 5 – and so proud of it!]
To close, Mr. Fisher offers a suggestion to all of us,”We’ve become very good at walking up to a serviceman or woman and saying ‘Thank you for your service,’ but that’s not enough anymore. We HAVE to do more. We have to do MORE, especially for the ones who that are still suffering from post-traumatic stress and brain injuries.”
To contact Fisher House Foundation, click here.
To contact Invictus Games Foundation, click here.
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