Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the August issue of Townhall Magazine.
When former-Navy SEAL Glen Doherty was killed in the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, the U.S. government wasn’t the one to immediately step up to pay for memorial expenses, which amounted to more than $40,000, it was the Red Circle Foundation, among other charities, and his friends that did.
Incidentally, the Red Circle Foundation was started by Doherty’s close friend and SEAL teammate Brandon Webb shortly before the attack as a way for him to personally give back to the special operations community. But it was Doherty’s death that gave Webb’s nonprofit its focus.
“We were working on deciding what our mission was gonna be and that’s when my brother lost his best friend over in Benghazi, Glen Doherty. So at that point it became really clear to both Brandon and I that that’s where we needed to focus our attention,” RCF executive director Maryke Webb tells Townhall. “Brandon felt firsthand the devastation the Doherty family went through, and as they were grieving, the bills for the memorial service started coming through and that made a difficult time for the family even more trying.
So basically we’ve come to realize that [families of fallen special operators] have enough to worry about without having the stress of the financial consequences of losing a loved one.”
Because the federal government and larger charities take so long to provide the services needed, RCF determined their niche could be in providing im- mediate assistance to special operations families, especially considering that ba- sic memorial expenses cost $10,000 or more, according to RCF’s website.
“A lot of large organizations and government programs are bureaucratic by nature, so what we wanted to do was to come in and combat that inherent group bureaucracy by just providing that quick funding that will essentially just help in that gap period until the VA can step in, or until other larger well-funded organizations can come in,” Webb explains.
When tragedy strikes, RCF has made a commitment that within 24-48 hours after receiving an application, the group is in touch with the family and provides funding, a turnaround time families will be hard pressed to find anywhere else. And if RCF can’t cover the entire cost, the group does not shy away from reaching out to other organizations to support the family together.
Helping with memorial expenses isn’t all RCF is about, however. They also provide assistance for medical and household expenses, and have developed a second area of focus on education and enrichment programs for children of the special operations community.
“As we’ve developed and moved on we’ve heard other things, where you know, veterans are waiting six months to receive a prosthetic leg when benefit paperwork hasn’t been filled out correctly, and when claims are delayed or denied families face losing their home,” says Webb. “A lot of the help that we’ve been able to provide is to actually parents of service members who’ve been killed in action, a lot of them ... they can’t work for a period of time so the income they were bringing in is not the same as what they had been.”
The education and enrichment programs were developed as a way to provide opportunities to the children of special operators whose fathers have either been killed, wounded, or are on extended deployment. RCF covers the enrollment costs for camps and enrichment programs, and provides two academic scholarships per year.
“Our academic and enrichment programs are a way for us to honor another friend my brother lost, John Zinn. His widow had come to my brother and just spoke about how at this point her son would’ve been up on a surfboard by now had John been around. So she was lamenting about some of the things that she as a mother can’t provide in terms of experiences for her son, so that’s how our enrichment program was developed, just out of that need that she felt wasn’t being addressed,” Webb says.
Since the group was founded in 2012, RCF has helped 35 families and given more than $87,000 in assistance. Fund- ing comes primarily from individual donations, 100 percent of which go directly to RCF’s programs, a model Webb believes sets the group apart from other organizations. RCF’s overhead expenses are covered by contributions from the group’s mission partners, corporations and veterans support foundations, allowing them to keep their promise regarding individual donations.
The group also holds an annual fundraising gala to raise as much money as possible in one night. This year’s will be held in La Jolla, California on September 6. The group hopes to raise $75,000 and is encouraging all to attend, sponsor, or donate to help special operations families in need.
“Families are just really happy that we’re there,” Webb says, adding that many families outside of the special operations community reach out to her wondering if there’s a similar program within the broader military community.
“It’s definitely a need that wasn’t being met to its capacity, and I think now especially, as special operators are being called to do more and more missions and as traditional troops are coming home, we’re seeing more and more special operators in need of this kind of assistance.” •