Many jobs are not the standard 8 to 5 workdays with overtime compensation for after hours work, but a career in the Navy is faced with a determination to forgo a lot of the norms associated with a job. Frequent moves and periods away from the family, missed birthdays and special holidays become a way of life for military personnel and their families. As Robin King, CEO of The SEAL Foundation stated, “It’s not the date on the calendar. Life needs to happen when you can make it happen.”
Military spouses joke that everything waits to bring down until after the husband leaves, and it is often true, be it washing machine, car, computer. The dog has kidney failure; the son falls and busts his mouth open. The remaining parent handles it. Sometimes, however, no matter how resilient the wife or husband is, help is welcomed. The Navy SEAL Foundation is there to lend a hand and fill in the void, from the minor problems to major crises that matter.
Navy SEAL Foundation is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt, national, nonprofit organization which provides worldwide support to the SEAL community, but few people know all the foundation does, partially because they respect individuals’ privacy and do not capitalize on it. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in June 2020, the foundation has evolved and continues to do so to accommodate the SEAL community and to meet any need that emerges.
As years pass, life changes and new situations arise that need aid. The foundation is prepared to step in and to give more than is requested, since sometimes traumatized people do not know exactly what they need or what is available to them. The foundation works closely with the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) who keeps them informed of situations where they can provide assistance. The Navy can do only so much to alleviate problems a SEAL family may have; the Navy SEAL Foundation has the task of aiding wherever a gap appears.
San Diego is fortunate to have the Navy SEAL Foundation CEO residing here, although technically the headquarters is in Virginia Beach. The main building is there, but where the CEO is, that becomes the unofficial headquarters. Offices are positioned around the country, such as New York and Chicago, to be able to respond in a timely manner.
From Irvin, Texas, King married her high school sweetheart, who is an active-duty SEAL, and started the military life in that community. After the first assignment in Coronado, he transferred to Virginia Beach. With two small daughters, she was a stay-at-home mom until it was time to return to the work force. Through connections with a friend, she accepted a part-time job with the Fraternal Order of Navy SEALs to help with membership.
“From the association, a group of really incredible retired veteran SEALs had an idea there should be some sort of foundation…. I was lucky enough to be on the ground floor with those guys when they had the idea,” said King.
The foundation started with scholarships even though the Underwater Demolition Team was awarding scholarships. King became the CEO, somewhat reluctantly, when she found herself “the last man standing.” She says the retired SEALs are still around, however, and still very supportive.
Her degree in Finance, plus her previous experience working with Cal State Long Beach, Disney, and McDonald Douglas, provided the perfect resume for the position, and she has found her niche with a way to help the SEAL community in various ways besides scholarships, although that is an important component of the foundation. Two million dollars in scholarships are awarded each year to veterans, active duty, spouses, and dependent children in two rounds, with the second round in July open only to active duty. Before the deadline in February this year, 536 applications had already been submitted. An independent team reviews the essays and applications to determine who qualifies. The foundation awards as many merit-based scholarships as possible to all who qualify.
Besides education, the foundation focuses on four other areas: health, strength, resilience, and community with about 30 unique programs under them to support the warriors, the families, the veterans. King said, “We really hope our programs are cradle to grave.”
Whether it is a young guy wanting to finish his education, a spouse wanting to get into the work force, a Gold Star family in the midst of tragedy, or a regular family experiencing a tragedy, the foundation is there with support. Taking a family of four to a funeral across country is expensive on two-days’ notice. “We help with those kinds of things. Resilience would be that area.”
King continued, “The SEALs’ “sacrifices are unimaginable, and we can’t give them back … but if we can remove some stress, then we feel like we’re helping in some way. A lot of it is about removing their stress.”
The area of Strength assures spouses that they have all the tools and resources they need to do well when SEAL spouse walks out the door. “We ensure the commands have what they need for pre- and post-deployment retreats, maybe babysitting or food or speakers for that.” The foundation supports other organizations, such as SEAL Kids, who are already helping the SEAL community. Without reinventing the wheel, the foundation can contribute monetary donations to help them do more.
To support the community, the foundation sponsors a Daddy/Daughter dance, a Father/Son event at the Padres game, and Breakfast with Santa, to name a few. “We have events to keep the community strong,” said King. They build in an element for the families to attend the fund-raising events which become a time for getting away for a weekend with the spouse, dressing up, and having fun.
A few hours of free respite childcare are available for deployed families and, also, for unique situations such as when one child is in the hospital and a sibling needs a sitter or when a spouse needs to go to the dentist without the toddler. King stressed several times that the foundation tries to listen to the families, “to walk through this with them” and continuously adjusts their programs to be relevant to the times. A recent survey highlighted marriage issues as the number one challenge for active duty. The focus becomes what do we do about that? While the NSW does a lot about helping with counseling, King questions, “Is there something else we can be doing?”
The foundation has a Human Performance Program that all the active duty, transitioning, and veterans are eligible for, that focuses on nutrition, cognitive training, physical training, and therapy. “We just want to help guys reset before they set out. The feedback is phenomenal.”
Recently an Admiral who had been retired several years went through the program. He commented on having been through many programs but that this one was life changing.
With an ever-changing society, the programs evolve to suit the situations. Allison Messick, the Director of Programs, “is constantly thinking. What was right when we started it, but should be fazed out. No longer needed or need has been changed.” Uber replaced the Safe Driver program. YMCA babysitting is no longer needed because spouses prefer their own gym that supplies that care.
When asked what she was most proud of concerning the foundation, King replied, “I am most proud of our quick response support and our flexibility support. When a member has been injured badly and in the midst of it there’s the fog, wouldn’t even know what to ask for, and to watch our team swoop in and handle things. And to hear…later they said, ‘I don’t know what I would have done without the Foundation.’”
Fund raising to continue and expand the numerous programs keeps the staff busy. King attends some events, especially if a speaker is needed, but board members and staff fill in. A new event will be held on May 6 at the Sanctuary Golf Course in Colorado, a privately owned course used solely for benevolence to fund raise. “The only way to play this course is through an event.” The New York City benefit is May 25 on the deck of Intrepid, outside. “If we keep going with the vaccine, we hope to have a great event. It’s our largest fund-raising event every year…. New York is great. There’s a bond there that will never break because of 9/11…. They (SEALs) got the bad guys.” Some of the SEALs wore patches from the New York fire departments when they were overseas. New York’s attitude is, ‘We’re going to take care of these guys for you.’”
A recent fund-raising event in Houston went very well and others are scheduled for Chicago and Half Moon Bay, California, in September, and a Los Angeles event in November. At each event, someone comes forward to express gratitude for the help they received from the foundation during a crisis. King says, “I get so lucky to receive all these compliments, but it’s this whole group: the donors, the board, the ambassadors, and, of course, the incredible staff. I just get to be the face a lot of times. They just want to thank someone. I’ve learned to say ‘You’re welcome’ instead of saying it’s not me.”
Navysealfoundation.org states: “The Navy Seal Foundation’s support allows the warriors on the frontline to stay focused on their mission.” The web site offers information about where to send a donation as well as additional information on their projects. King says, “Any and all support helps. We appreciate it. Just write a check and send it in. Little things mean a lot. I think we’re making a big difference in the life of the NSW community.”
If you would like to donate or for more information, visit https://www.navysealfoundation.org or write to Navy SEAL Foundation, 1619 D Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23459 or call 757-744-5326.