St. Petersburg, FL – It’s not your typical summer camp where you think of little kids canoeing and doing arts and crafts. Special Operations Forces Warrior Outdoor Leadership for the future or SOFWOLF is for young adults. They learn life skills while having fun.
It’s a camp these students would rather not qualify for because to go that means they’ve lost a parent who was a member of our elite Special Operations Forces.
Tommy Miller and Darian Thammarath are two of those students.
Major Kenneth Robert Miller, Jr. died in 2003. Tommy was 11 years old.
Sgt. Anibal Santiago was killed during a high-altitude climb in Afghanistan in 2010. Darian had just turned 12.
“It’s not something you ever get used to. It’s something you learn to cope with. Somebody who was in my life since I was at least two and was there for me for everything will no longer be there for my milestones. That’s when it gets the hardest,” Darian said about the death of her stepfather.
Tommy and Darian have a friendship rooted in the loss of their fathers. They met one summer at SOFWOLF. They say both of their fathers, like other who serve in the SOF community, taught them to love the outdoors.
“We would go hiking, go camping, all of the time,” said Darian.
“He was a thrill-seeker, an adventurer. He took my brother and I on a lot of trips to like the Galapagos islands, we went to the Amazon jungle several times. We went kayaking with him, rafting and so when he died there was kind of like that void of that that role. You know someone to take us out on those fun trips while at the same time teaching us different skills we would need,” said Tommy.
SOFWOLF has filled some of that void.
Mike Vaughn and his wife, Sara Moola, are co-founders of WOLF. Sara recognized a gap between children of fallen SOF getting a college education and landing a job.
“For me it was always personal,” said Mike.
A veteran of the SOF community, Mike wanted to help these students have an edge on the competition.
“It’s really designed to prepare them for what they're going to face. We do career mentoring, resume development. We do everything that's the structure of how you move and transition from higher education into finding and achieving a career,” he said.
Every summer, WOLF grants scholarships to 15 kids, primarily in college. They fly out to Park City, Utah and spend 6 days working on leadership development and team building. WOLF combines outdoor activities like archery, hiking and ropes courses with real-life lessons.
Each student is paired with a mentor. Mentors are SOF veterans, CEOs and even Olympians.
“There's obviously a fun side, but there's also a very educational side that helps us a lot. So last year we learned about 401(k)s and nobody my age is thinking about 401(k)s or how to plan for the future,” Darian explained.
Darian says her summer experiences in Utah with WOLF helped her get into the University of Tampa. She had help streamlining her application and learned important interviewing skills.
Tommy’s first experience with WOLF helped him get his first job. He’s now the director and coordinator of SOFWOLF.
“The ultimate goal for WOLF is to be a leadership program for the children of fallen SOF run by the children of fallen SOF,” he said.
Mike says WOLF and other non-profit organizations are critical.
“I mean the government can’t handle it and won’t frankly. It takes all of us to really to what we can what we need to do and recognize the sacrifice that was made,” he said.
WOLF does get some help from partner agencies, but it’s primarily funded by the Vaughns. Their St. Petersburg business, Visual Awareness Technologies and Consulting, does a lot of work within the SOF community and they want to give back to that community.
They want others to know about WOLF and even if you aren’t connected to SOF, you can still help the children of our fallen military.
“It's all about taking that legacy that their parents have left behind and then preparing those students to create their own legacy down the road,” said Tommy.
For more about how you can support the mission of SOFWOLF: http://www.sofwolf.org/support/
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