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Editor's Note: Veterans Advantage honored Kenneth Fisher, the head of the Fisher House Foundation, with its VetFamily Award in 2010. The U.K.’s Prince Harry asked Kenneth to chair the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida earlier this year. In an exclusive interview, Fisher speaks out about the power of the games for wounded soldier athletes, inspirations from his own veteran family, and continued passion for serving our military families. A transcript of the exclusive interview is below:
1. Tell us a little about your life when you were growing up, family background, where you were raised, any significant family's values or family influences.
I am a lifelong New Yorker, born in the Bronx, and I grew up in Harrison, NY, where I finished high school in 1976. I attended Ithaca College, and went straight into our family business, Fisher Brothers. My father Arnold and grandfather Larry were my biggest influences - they taught me nothing of value comes without hard work. My wife Tammy has had an enormous impact on my life as you might guess, as has my 3 children.
2. How did your father's Army service impact your childhood or affect you later as an adult?
I am enormously proud of my father's service in Korea. I came of age very shortly after Vietnam ended and never served, but it was those 2 wars and the way soldiers were treated that shaped my thinking. They are the forgotten veterans, who used their experience to make things better for those who serve today.
3. The name Fisher House has become synonymous with military families around the world, and you must have met countless military families. What do you find unique about this special group of Americans?
Military families make sacrifices and bear burdens we just take for granted. I am in awe of them, because the entire military family serves. And when a loved one becomes sick or injured, the burdens increase.
4. What is the #1 message you want Americans to get about the Invictus Games?
There are still veterans suffering from the unseen wounds of war, PTS and TBI. While we have done a good job at alleviating the stigma, I fear it still exists. While job programs are great, they need more than just a job. We need to do a better job at helping solve these issues. The suicide rate among veterans is appalling.
5. How did you get to know Prince Harry and what's it like working with him?
I first met Prince Harry at the first Invictus Games. He is a two tour combat veteran. It would be easy for someone like him to get caught up in his many duties, but he never forgot, and he never left a comrade behind. I have a profound respect for what he has done, and was an enormous help to our games.
6. What have you learned meeting with injured warriors from other nations such as the U.K.?
That their uniform might look different, but their experiences are the same. The entire military serves regardless of what country you call home.
7. What is your involvement with the National Intrepid Center for Excellence and the Center for the Intrepid?
Not too much, my father and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund built those two world class facilities, both privately funded. Both facilities have Fisher Houses to support them, but I guess that is fitting given the family impact on healing.
8. You have a lot of irons in the fire with your extensive philanthropic works. What do you love best about what you currently doing?
Fisher House is involved early on in the process, when the families are at their worst. Stressed, uncertain and scared of the unknown, as we all would be. Through my work with the Invictus Games, I get to see them at the end of the journey - smiles, pride; more a celebration of what they have done together. I devoted an entire year of my life to this. One family's smile will make it all worth the effort.
9. We know you must be incredibly busy running your business and with your philanthropic work. What do you when you have free time? Do you have any special hobbies or interests?
Since Tammy and I are now "empty nester's" my oldest daughter made me a grandfather 2 years ago. Spending time with her is my favorite, hands down.
10. What advice would you like to give vets looking to break into Corporate America and succeed like you?
I would encourage them to take advantage of the GI Bill, and go back to school. An education combined with their training and experience is a powerful combination, someone I would hire in a second.
11. Fisher House has grown tremendously over the last two decades. Looking back, what are you most proud of?
That Fisher House did not grow so fast that we lost control. We have done the same thing for 26 years, and we expanded responsibly in a way consistent with the needs of the family at the most stressful of times. And that we have kept our overhead to 5% of the donated dollar. 12 straight A+ ratings is something Tammy and I will always be proud of. It's always been about 1 thing. Family.