Anna Karcher knows something about sacrifice.
That may not be immediately obvious on meeting the spirited Texas Christian University freshman, whose easy smile exudes a confidence beyond her youth.
But when she traverses TCU’s manicured lawns each morning on her way to class, she carries a special gratitude that is lost on many people her age.
Only four years ago, Anna’s dad, then a lieutenant colonel in the Army, was part of a military caravan patrolling Sadr City — one of Baghdad’s more treacherous neighborhoods — as the United States was beginning to wind down its operations in Iraq.
The war, as America had come to know it, had largely faded from the headlines. But the dangers of the still-volatile combat zone were never far from the thoughts of people like Anna, her mom, and her sisters Audrey and Abbey, who had all spent years steeling themselves for the worst news imaginable, never expecting that it would come.
Lt. Col. Karcher’s mine-resistance ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, had taken a direct hit from an explosively formed projectile, a kind of devastating improvised explosive device that had been savaging troops in the region for years. And it penetrated his armored vehicle as if the MRAP were made of paper.
Anna doesn’t remember much about the call that informed her family of what had happened, but she knew the news was not good.
Miracles never cease. Karcher survived the attack, though only barely.
The days and weeks to come were “touch and go,” said Anna, who knows that her father nearly died several times during the months he spent in critical care, first at an Army base in Germany, then at Walter Reed Army Medical Center just outside Washington.
At his worst, the robust man, who once stood 6-foot-4, was hovering above 105 pounds.
He lost his legs in the assault; eventually both were amputated above the knee.
During his long and slow recovery at Walter Reed, a small nonprofit committed to serving military families found the Karchers and offered assistance.
No Greater Sacrifice, founded in 2008, has a simple mission: Honor our nation’s fallen and severely wounded service members by serving their children.
Specifically, the organization provides military children with financial assistance to pursue higher education that will improve their lives.
Not knowing what challenges lay ahead for the Karcher family, No Greater Sacrifice offered all three daughters scholarship assistance for college.
The organization is small, but mighty. It covers all expenses (room, tuition, board, books) at a public university or the equivalent costs for a private school.
Currently, No Greater Sacrifice has committed funds to 40 current and future students, but it estimates that as many as 50,000 children of fallen and wounded need such assistance.
And even the generous support covers only half the cost of private institutions like TCU.
But sometimes, family stories have their own power.
Only hours after meeting with No Greater Sacrifice officials, TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini told the organization that the university would happily make up the other half of Anna’s tuition.
Anna’s younger sister will attend Baylor University in the fall, and No Greater Sacrifice is hopeful they will find similar generosity in Waco.
Meanwhile, Lt Col. Karcher has continued to defy all odds. Able to walk with two prosthetics and a cane, he returned to active duty, served as the head of the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program and was promoted — he’s now a full colonel stationed at Fort Hood.
After all her father has overcome, Anna wonders aloud: “Who am I to be upset about something? He never is.”
For Anna and her sisters and the 37 other scholarship recipients, NGS is opening up opportunities that the children of America’s heroes might not otherwise realize.
Yet the Karchers are acutely aware that many families are not as fortunate as they have been; many soldiers never recover or never return home.
But because groups like No Greater Sacrifice make investing in our military children a priority, their sacrifices will not go unnoticed.