151st Air Refueling Wing
By Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn
6/3/2012 – SALT LAKE CITY — Nine members of the 151st Air Refueling Wing Chief’s Council had the opportunity to tour the newly opened Fisher House located next to the Veterans Administration hospital in Salt Lake City on May 3, 2012. This is the 57th Fisher House to be opened for the families of veterans who are undergoing treatment at a VA facility or military hospital, and it is also the newest facility to open.
The chiefs were escorted by Ray Bachillar, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, who volunteers his time to promote the Fisher House concept.
Bachillar said he knew Zachary Fisher, the founder of the Fisher House, and said they were drafted in to the military during the Vietnam conflict together. Fisher was medically disqualified from service, but Bachillar said when Fisher began observing some of his friends coming home after being wounded in combat, he vowed he would always support them however he could. In 1972, Fisher bought an aircraft carrier, the USS INTREPID, and made a floating museum out of it. He charged admission to the carrier to fund scholarships for returning veterans.
Later, Fisher and his wife Elizabeth were looking to expand assistance beyond the scholarships that they were providing. In 1991, they were at Walter Reed Medical Hospital to see what they could do for returning Desert Storm veterans. During their visit, Fisher came upon a spouse who was there to visit her husband receiving treatment. Due to her inability to find accommodations during her stay, she was staying in her vehicle with the couple’s baby. Upon hearing this, Fisher made arrangements to pay for a hotel room during her stay, which led to the idea of the Fisher House program.
The first Fisher House was built near the Bethesda Naval Hospital, followed shortly by one near Walter Reed, to house family members in need while their loved ones were undergoing treatment at those facilities.
The Salt Lake Fisher House was dedicated five months ahead of schedule on November 11, 2011, at 11:11 AM. The VA pays operations and maintenance costs, but everything else needed to operate is raised through donations, in the form of money as well as daily living items and consumables.
“It’s easy to forget about the veterans, and it’s even easier to forget about the families,” said Bachillar. “This $5.7 million home houses families that otherwise couldn’t afford to be near their veteran. It provides a place to live, including meals and entertainment, for some who are forced to be away from home for months on end.” He said on average, the facility hosts 17 families a day. It is complete with private sleeping quarters, along with a fully equipped and stocked kitchen, laundry facilities, common living areas, and an outdoor deck. All of this is furnished and provisioned with donations, and managed by the Fisher Foundation.
When asked what touring the Fisher House meant to him, Chief Master Sgt. Mark Savage, Chief Enlisted Manager for the Logistics Readiness Squadron said, “What a great impact on military families, and a great chance to help those in need”.
Chief Master Sgt. Raquel Ocana, Human Resources Specialist, added, “The Fisher House definitely exceeded my expectations, it was absolutely stunning! I am excited that the Chief’s Council could give back to our fellow veterans.”
After the day-long tour, the chiefs presented a Fisher House donation to Bachillar.
“This is a place that we can all be proud of,” Bachillar said. “I hope that I’ve given you enough to go back and advocate for this facility”.
The Chief’s Council is planning a fundraiser run later this year, with proceeds going directly to the Fisher Foundation. The donations will be used to help the Salt Lake facility continue to provide a place for families to stay while their veterans receive medical care.