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Honoring America's Fallen Heroes

A nonprofit organization that offers full college scholarships and outreach services to children of Montana soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is gaining ground after it was recently featured in two national news shows.

David Bell, an insurance executive and 1996 University of Montana graduate, and John McCarrick, a New York attorney, founded Grateful Nation in 2007 as a way to give back to fallen soldiers and their families. Their pilot program was created in Montana with the goal of eventual implementation in all 50 states.

The Grateful Nation program was recently featured on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” and on “FOX & Friends.”

Bell said Montana has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state. Only about 10 percent of U.S. soldiers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a bachelor’s degree, and only 4 percent of all enlisted soldiers have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Children whose parents attended college are more likely to pursue higher education.

“The low college attendance by our infantry troops, who are the most likely to be killed in the line of duty, and the reality of a single parent left to deal with the financial and socioeconomic issues of raising a child alone, create a bitter irony,” Bell said. “When an American soldier pays the ultimate price for our country, the soldier’s children are effectively sentenced to a life without the education and tools needed to help them realize the American dream.”

He said Grateful Nation is changing this with a unique program that fosters a lifelong connection between universities and the surviving families of America’s fallen heroes. When a Montana soldier is killed, the Montana University System facilitates a connection between the surviving parent and one of the state universities.

The program, which can be used to attend any school in the Montana University System, is administered at UM by Teresa Branch, vice president for Student Affairs. Program funds are managed by the UM Foundation.

UM President George Dennison said, “Grateful Nation offers an important service for the children of Americans who have made the greatest sacrifice for their country. We view it as a privilege for the University to participate in this effort.  I can think of nothing more appropriate than a guarantee of education for the children of fallen heroes.”

Grateful Nation now is conducting a fundraising campaign to underwrite current and future scholarships. A full description of Grateful Nation Montana’s mission and activities can be found on the organization’s Web site at http://www.gratefulnationmontana.com.