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Operation EPIC Brings SOWF Scholars Together for College Orientation Program

Monday, June 29, 2015  
Posted by: SOWF Staff
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The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is more than a scholarship granting organization.  According to President/CEO Joseph Maguire, a retired Navy Vice Admiral, the foundation is always looking for ways to help the children of fallen warriors succeed in life. 

One example is a program hosted by the Foundation that helps the children of fallen warriors prepare for college.  Named by last year’s students, Operation EPIC (Educational Preparedness Informational Conference) brings future SOWF college students together with current and prior scholarship recipients for a crash course in college preparation.   

Operation EPIC also brings together students who have one common bond: the loss of a parent who served in Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps special operations.

"We're going through the same stuff transitioning from high school to college. It feels better to have someone who went through the same history as me to help me through this time," said Jasmine Healy, whose father, Navy SEAL Senior Chief Dan Healy, was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan.

In the fall, she'll be attending Pace University in New York City. She says it's exciting and she knows her dad would be proud. "For me and my sister he would want the best and college is definitely the best."

Operation EPIC was hosted in mid-June by the University of Tampa, located in the heart of the city. Participants were housed on campus, so they could experience life in a college dorm. 

During the four-day EPIC program, instructors covered topics including the college application process, writing a college entrance essay, strategies to learning, studying, memory techniques, building confidence, setting goals, and making responsible choices. The students also took part in exercises to build trust, work as a team, and strengthen their mental muscles.

“The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is committed to providing the funding for a college education to the children of fallen special operations warriors.  This program helps make sure they have the skills to make them successful,” said Maguire.  

This year’s program had seven mentors, which included two SOWF college graduates, and five current SOWF college students. They were there to help 18 high school seniors and three incoming freshmen.  Kyle Anderson served as an Operation EPIC mentor. 

Kyle’s father, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Anderson, was killed in a helicopter crash in 1991 while assigned to the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. 

Kyle was nine months old. The SOWF stepped into his life to ensure he received a college education.  “The foundation not only provided financial assistance, but they also offered to walk me through the application and admissions process,” said Kyle. 

“The Special Operations Warrior Foundation is more than a scholarship fund, more than a check-writing organization.  They are there for us and we are blessed to have the foundation in our lives.”  

Today, Kyle, 25, is a student at Piedmont International University in North Carolina.  Describing his role as a mentor, Kyle said, “College is rough, especially for some of us.  But with determination and hard work, we can succeed.” 

Victor Lee is one of the students who attended Operations EPIC. 

Victor, whose father, James T. Jones IV, an Army Master Sergeant in Psychological Operations, died in 2011, says he once lived in Tampa Bay with his family.  Victor enjoyed the SOWF’s college introductory program, saying the program “helped me get to know college life,” he said. 

Some of the skills learned during Operation EPIC will help not only in school but in life.  “I learned reasoning and memory skills, and critical thinking,” said Victor.

In addition to the learning skills, high school junior Alison Loftis found meeting the mentors was important. 

“They showed us that we are tough enough to make it,” said Alison, whose dad, Air Force Lt. Col. J.D. Loftis, lost his life in 2012.

SOWF graduate Ebony Sherrill also joined Operation EPIC as a mentor. 

Ebony, who graduated from Stevenson University in Maryland last December with a degree in film, video and theatre, enjoyed meeting the new students and networking with them. 

Ebony’s father, Air Force Maj. Geoffrey “Doc” Sherrill, was a physician and surgeon who lost his life in 1996. Ebony’s twin brother, Martin, is scheduled to graduate from Stevenson University next year, also with a film degree; their older sister, Monica, graduated in 2008 with a degree in early childhood education.

“Education has always been extremely important to my family,” said Ebony.

“My father was a doctor and he always said no matter what we did with our lives, we were going to go to college. Having the Special Operations Warrior Foundation in my life meant getting my life back and the opportunity for success.”

In addition to gaining valuable classroom information, Ebony said Operation EPIC provided the mentors with an ideal environment to share their college experiences with students about to walk the same path. 

 “Just meeting the students, I could see so much potential, passion and drive. With the Special Operations Warrior Foundation giving us the opportunity to further our education, it is amazing all the things we can accomplish.” 

Operation EPIC was the brainchild of April Steen, the foundation’s licensed clinical social worker.

It was very satisfying, she said, to see the mentors taking the younger students under their wings, and the shy and unsure students blossoming before her eyes – including one who said he would like to be a mentor next year.

“The University of Tampa could not have been a better partner,” said April. The University of Tampa covered the costs of the students’ housing and daily meals in the school’s cafeteria. The University of Tampa's admissions team also provided students valuable feedback on how to write an effective college entrance essay.  

“This is a BIG transition in everyone’s life,” Ebony noted.  “There are so many children out there that are feeling the same way that I felt in high school.  Just having the support of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation makes you feel like you are not alone.”

So far, 260 students have completed their post-secondary education with the help of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

This program compliments the Foundation's counseling program resulting in 31 of 33 high school graduates entering their freshman year at colleges and universities across the country, bringing the total number of SOWF scholarship recipients in colleges across the country to 140. Two of those students will be attending the University of Tampa. One will begin her sophomore year in September, while a second will begin his freshman year.

Our counselors are in contact with all our children from kindergarten through college and the Foundation will provide in home tutoring to all the children.   Our pledge to the special operations service members is if they lose their live serving their country we will do all we can to ensure their surviving children have the opportunity for a college education or other post-secondary program.  We want the children to succeed and the tutoring can assist them at an early age as well as when they are in college.






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