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Raising awareness

Cannon Connections photo: Jared Tucker Melinda Rudess Petrigani, right, and Col. John T. Carney listen Saturday as Col. Stephen Clark talks about his experience in special operations. About 30 people attended the event held at the VFW Post 3280, where $1,000 was donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Jared Tucker

Cannon Air Force Base commanders teamed with the VFW on Saturday in Clovis to help raise awareness for a cause that puts children of fallen special operations soldiers through college.

The organization is called the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. It was started 30 years ago by Ret. Col. John T. Carney, Jr., after the failed mission to rescue 53 American hostages held by revolutionary militia and students in Tehran, Iran, in 1980. Eight special operations soldiers lost their life in the rescue attempt.

“It was decided in 1980 by mission participants and benevolent supporters, a post-secondary education is the single most important gift we could give the 17 surviving children. This is our mission today,” Carney told the crowd at VFW Post 3280.

Carney said the foundation also sends a $2,000 check to the family of any injured special operations soldier. A total of $1.3 million has been spent on those disbursements alone, he said.

“The check is overnighted. It usually gets to the hospital before the family does,” he added.

However, Carney said the foundation is about much more than just cutting tuition and emergency travel checks. The foundation is in constant contact with families of deceased soldiers, consoling them, sending birthday and Christmas cards to the children, and encouraging them every step of the way.

SOWF is currently helping 134 students attending college, and another 531 in the program are waiting to be old enough to attend college. Seven of those children are from New Mexico.

“I couldn’t be more happier. What it tells me is I fulfilled a promise to that soldier, sailor or airman that lost his life. I completed a mission,” Carney said.

One of those successful missions was Melinda Rudess Petrigani. Petrigani’s father died when she was eight months old during a training exercise on July 30, 1986.

“They’re not here to take my dad’s place. But they are here to make it easier on me and mom,” said Petrigani, who graduated from DePaul University in Chicago in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

27th Special Operations Wing Commander Col. Stephen Clark attended the event, where he and Carney were presented with a $1,000 donation from the VFW Post 3280.

Carney said anyone who wants to donate to the Special Operations Warrior Fund can do so at