Secretary of Defense
Remarks at the Fisher House Foundation's 25th Anniversary Gala
Thank you, Kyra. Appreciate it. Listen, it’s a privilege – it’s a privilege – for Stephanie and me to be here tonight. And to be here among so many distinguished leaders and public servants is truly a testament to this organization – Dick, Sloan, and Sandy, Mary, and many many others, thank you, and Congressman, you honor us with your presence.
On behalf of all the men and women of the Department of Defense, I first want to thank those who are here this evening, veterans, military families, thank you. We’re here to honor you – your service, your sacrifice. We never, ever take it for granted. Because above all, it’s our people – it's our people – our brave men and women in uniform, it’s them, that make America’s the finest fighting force the world has ever known. It’s them.
Greeting every guest to every Fisher House across the nation, and I’ve been to many, is a steel plaque inscribed with these words: “Dedicated to our greatest national treasure – our military service men and women, and their loved ones.”
To Ken Fisher and the entire Fisher family: thank you for putting those words into action for 25 years, guided by an enduring truth that military families are the backbone of our force. And our obligation to stand by them is a responsibility to be shared by all, not shouldered by a few.
I have to tell you a story here, because this was made very clear in 2013, when Ken called us a few weeks before the government shutdown. Congress’s failure threatened our ability to deliver funds promised to families of the fallen.
Ken will remember this – I was embarrassed and infuriated by the circumstances. But Fisher House was there, not only offering to fill the gap if need be, but going above and beyond – giving $25,000 to each of 30 families and helping cover transportation costs during that disgraceful period, so families could be there to pay their highest respect to loved ones who gave their last full measure of devotion to keep us safe and free.
That powerful, behind-the-scenes dedication is the same dedication you’ll find every time you step foot in a Fisher House.
They’re much more than a place to stay – they’re warm and inviting, a sanctuary of community and camaraderie, and a source of motivation to push through hard days. Healing comes in many forms, not just from caring doctors and nurses, but from loving family and friends.
That’s the magic of a Fisher House.
“Remember us not for what we gave,” Zachary Fisher once said, “but for the hardships we helped ease, and for the friendships we helped to form.”
For a quarter century, in critical times of need, you’ve given 250,000 families a home away from home. You’ve given tens of thousands of airline tickets so families could be there at besides. You’ve given countless husbands, wives, sons, and daughters scholarships so they can seize opportunities their loved ones helped defend. And the list goes on.
But meeting the needs of today’s military families is only half the battle. As you know well, the strength of our nation and the strength of our military are built on a community foundation. Supporting future generations of military families – and preserving our all-volunteer force – demands we continue to connect our military community to the broader American community. That’s a different challenge for us today than we’ve faced in past generations. Here’s why: today, roughly 1 in every 100 people in America volunteer to serve.
Our mission – our mission – is to ensure everyone else – those 99 others – can go to bed safely, hug their children, live their lives, dream their dreams, and not have to worry about their safety.
But I like to say, security is like oxygen – if you have it, you don’t pay any attention to it; but if you don’t have it, it’s all you can think about. So, paradoxically, the more our troops succeed, the easier it is for their success to go unnoticed.
But that’s exactly the kind of challenge Fisher House was built to take on. In the early 2000s, when the first waves of wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan came home, Fisher House innovated, adapted, and built homes differently to meet the needs of a new generation of modern military families – without losing sight of the same, stalwart, Fisher House wisdom of a broad community-wide approach where we draw strength from shared responsibility.
That's the key to success, today and into the future. And that’s the remarkable foresight of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher.
We see it in every Fisher House – assembled from donations across America, both large and small; from individuals to corporations; from million-dollar-checks, to airline miles, to jars of coins from lemonade-stands. All of that.
And in that way, Fisher House leads by example; a model for broader support made possible by connecting the many-kept-safe to the few-who-bravely-step-forward-to-serve; a template to ensure we stay dedicated to our ‘greatest national treasure’ for years to come.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Let me add one more story to the inspirational stories showcased here tonight.
More than anything, Killian White wants to be a soldier. But he’s only 5 years old. So in the meantime, he wants to do whatever he can to help the Army.
For his 5th birthday, instead of presents, Killian asked for donations to go to the Fort Bragg Fisher House, and it didn’t take long for him to blow past his goal of $1,000 bucks.
Here’s what makes Killian’s story special: neither of his parents are in the military. His mom, Kristen, says, “somehow love of the Army is just in his soul.”
That’s the game-changing power of the Fisher House. Because we’re not just civilian families, we’re not just military families, we are all American families – and when we take care of each other, our military and our nation are stronger for it.
To all of you associated with Fisher House, thank you. God bless you. And God bless all of our service men and women, past and present, and their families.