(Photo: Semper Fi Fund)
During the spring of 2003, the first medivacs were returning to Camp Pendleton from the battlefield of Iraq. Karen Guenther, a Marine Corps spouse who's husband was deployed at the time, was working at the Naval Hospital on Camp Pendleton, and saw firsthand the needs of the wounded arriving there.
Guenther immediately realized most of them were in need of basic health and comfort items, so she enlisted the help of some fellow military spouses and began assembling "welcome bags" full of toiletries, phone cards, and other items intended to make life better for the wounded Marines.
"We went out to local churches and Boy Scouts and had everybody help," said Wendy Lethin, one of the first to join Guenther's effort. "Everybody was very generous, but we realized there was much more than welcome bags needed."
During this same time, the spouses learned of parents of wounded Marines sleeping in their cars while visiting hospitals because they could not afford to stay at local hospitals, and they also helped to provide an adapted vehicle to a Marine whose wife was having difficulty lifting him into their truck
"That was kind of the idea for the Semper Fi Fund," Lethin said.
Sgt. John Peck, USMC and his wife accept their brand-new adapted vehicle from the Semper Fi Fund in 2004. (Photo: Semper Fi Fund)
Guenther gathered her group of spouses around her kitchen table in her house aboard Camp Pendleton and started brainstorming what they should do to get their collective arms around all of the needs that they saw rapidly emerging. They researched existing non-profits and were surprised that there didn't seem to be any that were doing what they had in mind.
"We had the right group at the right time," Lethin said. "We read all kinds of books on non profits and did our research. And we agreed to the ideals and tenants of the organization that still guide us today."
As stated on the Semper Fi Fund's website, the organization's mission is to provide immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities.
Semper Fi Fund founder Karen Guenther. (Photo: Semper Fi Fund)
The Fund's first official donation came for the Lighthouse Christian Church in Oceanside, California. The entire donation was given to the first three wounded Marines referred by the hospital with the thought that even if that was all that was raised it would at least help those three and their families at a difficult time in their recovery. Little did the organizers realize that that donation would be the first of many.
In the 12 years since the Semper Fi Fund has transformed the lives of thousands of wounded service members and their families. The Fund now has a dedicated staff supplemented by hundreds of volunteers around the world.
"I'm proud of what we do and how we do it," Lethin said. "It's a sacred duty to be able to do what we do."
The Fund's next major event is the "InVETational," a charity golf tournament hosted by comedian and actor Rob Riggle (who, among other roles, is currently playing Col. Sanders in KFC commercials). Riggle is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served as a public affairs officer in Afghanistan. The tournament will take place at Valencia Country Club in Los Angeles on Dec. 5.
"We are so excited that Rob is doing this for the Semper Fi Fund," Lethin said. "He has the heart of our mission. He's a Marine who knows the power and good of what we do."