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Team Vander Ley

Team Vander Ley started our Special Operations journey in 1991 when we met while assigned to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Married two years later, we spent the next 24 years assigned to various Air Force and joint Special Operations units around the world. It quickly became a family affair when our two children were born. To say they grew up in a unique environment is an understatement; from attending crisis action team meetings in strollers, having a playpen in Janet’s intel office while she planned a deployment, to interesting dinner discussions as they grew older – we truly all served together. We realized our positions and the experiences we shared allowed us to help other dual military couples with childcare situations when the unit was called in for classified missions – most times when base support activities were not open, or even knew of the childcare needed. We championed the need for childcare in these instances, which allowed the active-duty parents to focus on the mission. We continued to be very attuned to military family needs as we navigated our sometimes-crazy dual-military Special Operations world. Fast forward quite a few years, and we find ourselves in another unique situation as our son is now also in Special Operations. Needless to say, we remain committed to military family care.

Throughout our careers we unfortunately experienced the loss of many friends and colleagues, starting with the downing of an AC-130 in Desert Storm, the peacetime losses of two MC-130Hs in Puerto Rico and Albania, plus the numerous losses in Iraq and Afghanistan; we saw first-hand the need for family support. Between the two of us, we have known over 60 Special Operators who have made the ultimate sacrifice. So, when we looked to be involved in a meaningful organization it wasn’t even a question in our minds that it would be the Special Operations Warrior Foundation; their focus on the children, and the support for the family spoke to us in a very personal way. The absolute care and continued support the foundation provides the children and spouses is unmatched. We knew that if something ever happened to either of us, both of our kids would immediately be supported from “cradle to career”!

As new Ambassadors, our first “event” we had the opportunity to participate in was the recent Beach Run for America’s Warriors at the famous Flora-Bama Oyster Bar outside of Pensacola, FL. It was impressive to see the SOWF Team engaged to raise funds, but more impressive was the outpouring of community support! Running a half marathon and a 5K on a beach is challenging, but the runners had a great time, the Flora-Bama owners (one a former Ranger) hosted a grand event, the band and refreshments were outstanding, and all the $16K in proceeds went directly to support SOWF.

It was impressive for us to see how every donation truly makes an impact. This was put into perspective when we met and talked with a “SOWF Graduate” who had recently reached out after a few years and was overwhelmed with the immediate response she received from the SOWF staff. She drove down from northern Alabama to connect with the team. She talked to us and other donors about how much SOWF made her feel as if she had a huge second family throughout her life and into college and now well into her career. It brought the reality of the SOWF efforts into focus, and that everything you do directly supports an individual. It’s not just some broad philanthropic business, but a caring, meaningful, and supportive “battle buddy” for life. We are truly honored and excited to continue our association with this great organization!

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