Winnefeld Hails Fisher House Chairman as Hero
The Fisher House Foundation’s role in assisting military families has grown over the past 13 years of war, and selfless work of the foundation’s chairman has earned the Defense Department’s gratitude, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.
Navy Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. presented Fisher House Chairman Kenneth Fisher with the 2014 Heroes of Military Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award during a ceremony honoring individuals who have directly improved the lives of service members, veterans and their families.
“It really is a special privilege for me tonight to personally pay tribute to a man who has dedicated so much of his life to others,” Winnefeld said.
“I regularly remind people that our military is a family business,” the admiral said. “No one epitomizes that sentiment more than Ken Fisher, and his wonderful wife, Tammy, who have carried on the Fisher family legacy of focusing on military families.”
The Fisher House Foundation is best known for providing comfort homes where the families of service members and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while their loved ones receive treatment at military or Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
The vice chairman said he first became aware of the foundation more than two decades ago, working for Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It was abundantly clear to me that General Powell thought the world of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher,” he said. “Mary and I witnessed first-hand the power of this organization in my next tour as we helped cook Thanksgiving dinner at one of the original Fisher Houses at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.”
Fisher House has grown exponentially in scope and importance over the nation’s last 13 years of war, Winnefeld said, including building 63 houses in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom over that time -- and they’re building more.
“Fisher House provides the next-best thing to being home with family,” he said. “We all know the strength of family during the healing process.”
The Fishers, Winnefeld said, are not content with just providing housing; they also have a program called “Hero Miles.”
“Hero Miles allows families to travel to the bedside of injured service members at no cost,” he explained. “And if the local house is full, their ‘Hotels for Heroes’ program covers hotel costs for families.”
Winnefeld said the Fisher House website details the “incredible numbers” of people they’ve supported over the years -- more than 200,000 families have been served, he noted, more than 22,000 in 2013 alone.
“That’s enormous,” the vice chairman said. “Seven thousand students have received $11 million in scholarship awards. Over 46,000 airline tickets have been provided by Hero Miles to service members, and their families, worth [more than] $60 million.”
But those are only the public numbers of the support the foundation provides, Winnefeld said. “The foundation is right there behind the scenes whenever tragedy occurs,” he added.
The vice chairman candidly noted that Fisher House “can be much more agile than we can be in DOD.”
“They don’t just wait for families to approach them,” Winnefeld said. “After the recent Fort Hood shooting, the Fisher House Foundation was instantly there with support. Hero Miles provided round-trip tickets for family members of the wounded who required hospital stays. They provided round-trip tickets in support of family members of the deceased to attend the memorial ceremony. Of course, multiple families were housed in the Fisher House, and others were given rooms in the Marriot.”
When Fort Hood’s commander met with the grieving families, he said, it was at the Fisher House. “Their focus is to quietly assist our families while filling in the gaps, while honoring their service and their privacy,” Winnefeld said.
Fisher House is now led by Zachary Fisher’s nephew, Ken Fisher, Winnefeld said, who serves as the foundation’s chairman. “His selfless work has brought relief to thousands of people at the most difficult moments of their lives when the only thing they should be concerned with is their loved ones’ recovery,” he said.
Winnefeld emphasized that if something having to do with helping military families is happening, Ken Fisher is “probably not very far away, and probably helping us maintain high standards whatever ‘it’ is.”
The vice chairman said he was “humbled” to be near Fisher, who he called “one tough cookie,” noting that he has been bestowed with the titles of honorary Marine and Green Beret.
“Ken, on behalf of our military families, thank you so much for your lifetime of service, integrity, sacrifice and commitment to us,” Winnefeld said. “We will be forever grateful. I cannot think of anyone more suitable for the lifetime achievement award.”
Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, also lauded Fisher as he noted military medicine is a “mission of passion.”
"What the Fisher House Foundation has done represents our future,” he said. “The need for more tightly integrated public-private partnership is part of a set of solutions to our challenges and will make us stronger.”