The Friends of the Fallen, a non-profit volunteer group, who supports families of the fallen, was recently selected as the Air Force nominee for the 2018 Zachary & Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award.
The award was established in 1996. It recognizes exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concerns for members of the Armed Forces and their families.
“Friends of the Fallen was selected for their patriotism, generosity and selfless dedication to the members of all branches of the military and their families,” said Maj. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, Air Force Personnel Center commander. “Their support demonstrates the esteemed tradition and personal qualities of generosity and selfless dedication represented by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher.”
Approximately 50 volunteers consisting of retired military, military spouses and civilians in the local community dedicate their time to support families who travel to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of their loved one.
“We are a group of exceptional volunteers who put heart and soul into honoring the fallen by comforting their loved ones in their time of deepest grieving,” said Karen House, the president of the non-profit organization. “I am truly proud to be a part of Friends of the Fallen.”
The organization stood up in 2010 following the opening of the Center for Families of the Fallen. The center was created when the change in media policy began allowing family members to elect media coverage and travel to Dover for the dignified transfer if they choose.
Volunteers serve as hosts and hostesses for families. The hospitality they provide can range anywhere from coffee and cookies to children’s toys and toiletry items, but most importantly, it’s a calm presence of a volunteer showing their support regardless of the day or time.
They also provide comfort shawls, teddy bears and a variety of grief material for families who wish to take it.
Several of the volunteers and board members have been with the organization since shortly after it was created and continue to help Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations provide care, service and support to families of the fallen. For the volunteers, serving families of the fallen is their honor.
“It is a blessing and honor to serve with these patriotic board members who give so much of themselves to do our small part to help these families when they come to Dover Air Force Base,” said Herbert Welday III, Friends of the Fallen dignified transfer coordinator.
Welday creates a monthly calendar and schedules volunteers to ensure someone is available each and every day in the event of a dignified transfer. Volunteers serve in an on-call capacity for a 24-hour period.
While their primary mission is at the Center for Families of the Fallen at Dover Air Force Base, the Friends of the Fallen also set up rooms and tables at local hotels when additional lodging facilities are necessary. They offer grief material and refreshments and are there around the clock in the event a family member needs something.
“We could not support our families to the standards they deserve without the amazing support of the Friends of the Fallen,” said Col. Dawn C. Lancaster, AFMAO commander. “From having volunteers in the Center for Families of the Fallen no matter day and time to garnering donations for the families, they are there no matter the call.”