ST. SIMONS ISLAND | If more people were like Karen Burris, TGIM would be a common abbreviation.


But not everyone has a job like Burris’ that makes her glad when Monday comes and it’s time to go back to work.

It started a long time ago when her husband, Andy, told her he was going to Virginia Military Institute and then enlisted. She had mixed feelings because it was too soon after Vietnam. He was commissioned in the Army in 1982, became an airborne Ranger and she followed him to duty stations for 10 years. He went to Iraq for Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield and made it home to the safety of stateside duty. He was a major, executive officer of the 1st Battalion of the 3/25th Infantry and up for lieutenant colonel.

“He breathed it. He just loved being a soldier,’’ she said.

He was at Camp Blanding in 1997 with the relatively benign assignment of evaluating a National Guard unit on its two-week summer training exercise.

“He was run over by a deuce-and-a-half,’’ she said in the Army parlance for
2 1/2-ton truck.

She was suddenly an Army widow and the single parent of Allison, a 3-year-old daughter. She moved to St. Simons in 2001 “to heal,’’ she said, and Allison went to Glynn County schools. After Allison graduated from Glynn Academy, Burris figured she would have to do what a lot of parents have to do.

“I was going to get student loans and pay them off later,’’ she said.

But then came an organization that Burris didn’t know existed, Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. The foundation pays for college for those who died in service, or for a technical education if that’s what they want. Allison was two years into college, but the foundation accepted her as a beneficiary and reimbursed Burris for the tuition and other expenses.

Allison will graduate from the University of South Carolina next May without a penny of debt.

“I told the women in the [foundation] office if you have an opening, look at me,’’ Burris said.

They did, and she’s been working for the foundation since February. Her job is a simple but hard one, find eligible children and get them enrolled.

It’s not that easy. A lot of people who have lost parents don’t know about the foundation and, because of privacy laws, there’s no central registry of dependants.

Foundation publicist Kate Lewis said there are about 15,000 eligible children. “We have identified about 4,000. Since the beginning of the organization, we’ve granted about $6 million in Afghanistan,’’ Lewis said.

And it doesn’t have to be someone who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, she said.

The children of several Vietnam veterans who died from exposure to Agent Orange have received scholarships, Lewis said.

Founders David and Cynthia Kim of Greenwich, Conn., established Children of Fallen Patriots in memory of Sgt. Delaney Gibbs, who was killed five days before Christmas, 1989, in Operation Just Cause in Panama. Gibbs’ wife had daughter due in March.

“That weighed heavily on David,’’ a West Point graduate, Burris said, and he went to work to help.

Years later, the foundation tracked down Gibbs’ daughter and assisted her with her college. The foundation recently relocated to Jacksonville Beach to be closer to Ponte Vedra, the home of its executive director, John Coogan.

Burris got home to St. Simons on Friday after attending a banquet in Franklin, Tenn., to honor Zachary Hamby, who is graduating from high school at 16. He has been assisted up to his graduation by another organization, A Soldier’s Child, which referred him to Children of Fallen Patriots for his higher education.

Zachary wants to go to college to make prosthetic limbs for wounded soldiers, Burris said, choking up a little talking about.

She’ll spend the weekend on St. Simons, take her customary walk on the beach Sunday just waiting for the alarm clock Monday morning.,

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