“The United States of America regrets to inform you,” are the words she remembers hearing when the Naval officers came to her home. She was young, only seven years old, but it was an experience she’ll never forget, and she explained what happened next. “My mom started to cry. I knew something very bad had happened. I was right.”
That was how Brandi Anderson learned about the death of her father. Michael Anderson enlisted in the Navy after high school and served on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV-59). He left the Navy to return to civilian life but after the terrorist attacks of 9-11 he re-enlisted as a Navy Seabee. Petty Officer Michael Anderson was 36 years old when he died in Anbar Province, Iraq in a mortar attack. Brandi recently commemorated the 15th anniversary of her father’s death which occurred on May 2, 2004.
At this time of year, Americans recognize those laid to rest who sacrificed their lives for our nation’s defense. We also celebrate the next generation of professionals who are graduating from college and preparing to enter a workforce that is as dynamic and competitive as it ever has been. At Freedom Alliance, we do both by providing college scholarships to the sons and daughters of America’s military heroes.
Freedom Alliance has nearly 400 students on scholarship this year – each the child of a soldier, sailor, airman or marine who has given life or limb for our country. It’s an honor to know these students and a privilege to help them attain the college education their parent dreamed they would have. There’s no expectation on their part that their education will be free or easy. They are incentivized to do well because their ticket to higher education was paid for by a hero’s sacrifice that they wish to honor.
These military families stand in stark contrast to those who’ve used fat bribes or false pretenses to attain college admission. The lesson is unmistakable. Those who use illegal means to get their kids into school believe a college credential is the most important ticket to success. They teach their kids to lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want. Military members, in contrast, teach their kids that character counts. They offer themselves in the service of others, show concern for their fellow Americans, and put their faith in enduring values that are the true measure of a person’s worth.
Approximately 7,000 children have lost a parent in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. As our Student Ambassador, Brandi Anderson will represent those students who are on scholarship with Freedom Alliance and those who’ve recently graduated. She will share with them the advice she most remembers from her father – “never give up.”
“I have held on to this advice,” Brandi explains, “and have tried to live a life that makes both him and my mom proud every day.” She certainly has accomplished that. Brandi graduated from Stetson University this month with a degree in Public Management and her name on the Dean’s List. Brandi’s goal is to work for the National Park Service. Her father’s dream was for her to graduate college, and it’s an honor to help that dream come true.
A great debate is taking place in our country about the value of higher education and the debt with which graduates are saddled. College graduates owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans, exceeding the amounts outstanding to credit card companies and auto loan lenders. On average, they carry loan balances of $33,310.
After this weekend, that’s no longer the case for some 400 graduates of Morehouse College in Atlanta. They were pleasantly surprised when commencement speaker and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners, announced he and his family would make a gift to pay off the entirety of the graduates’ loans – an amount estimated at $40 million. Kudos to Mr. Smith and congrats to the Morehouse graduates; a substantial burden has been removed as they begin their careers.
But for Brandi Anderson and other students who lost a parent in service to our country, their story is not about the debt they owe to a government loan. It’s about the debt we Americans owe to them.
Tom Kilgannon is the President of Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides support to America’s military families and advocates for a strong national defense.