In 2008, Sgt. Major Dennis Roach retired from 33 years of active duty with the N.C. National Guard.
“The very next day, I started this job, and I’ve been doing it for 10 years,” said Roach, director of the Soldiers & Airmen Assistance Fund (SAAF), which offers assistance and support to Guard families.
The program had its roots in a chaplain’s fund started in 1991 for families of soldiers deployed in the Iraqi War, Roach said. In 2004, the fund’s mission changed. It became a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping soldiers when they came home from deployment.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Roach said, “and we’ve tried to do as much as we can to help folks. We take care of the N.C. National Guard citizen soldiers.”
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The fund gives grants to soldiers and their families to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, utilities and medical emergencies. It also provides housing assistance for disabled Guard veterans, and educational scholarships for military and veteran Guard families. It assists with Save a Soldier, a program to assist personnel with behavioral health issues, and provides funding to send care packages to soldiers deployed overseas.
Roach works with a board of directors — a good mix of businesspeople and military personnel. While SAAF is totally separate from the Guard, the two groups have a great working relationship, he said. Since 2004, SAAF has provided $1.8 million in assistance for more than 1,500 Guard families.
The group works closely with other nonprofits serving the Guard, including Wounded Warriors released from the Guard since 9/11; Kids on Guard, camps for children whose parents are deployed; Friends of the Air Guard, a similar group in Charlotte; and the Gold Star Survivors Program.
“We’re involved in a lot of things,” Roach said. “We have a lot of great sponsors to help us out. Our goal is to make people aware of what military families go through when they deploy and when they come home. It’s hard on families, especially the spouse who has to do everything at home while the solider is gone.”
In recent weeks, Guard members have been deployed to help during and after hurricanes, and their own homes were damaged, Roach said. Helping those soldiers has been at the top of his to-do list of late.
Several successful golf tournaments are top fundraisers for SAAF, as is the specialized Guard license plate offered by the state of North Carolina. The “In God We Trust” license plate is available through the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, with $20 of the $30 price going to SAAF.
Otherwise, Roach said, the fund is totally operated with individual and corporate donations. One significant group is the North Carolina Petroleum & Convenience Marketers, which takes donations annually through its “boot” campaign. Supporters can purchase $1 decals through Handee Hugo’s Stores, Minuteman Food Marts, Bull Market, Fuel Market, Friendly Mart, and New Dixie Market Stores.
“Their employees just go all out for this fundraiser,” Roach said.
EDM is also a longtime partner. The company sponsors an annual golf tournament in Cary which is the third-largest military golf tournament in the country.
Roach was working in Raleigh in the office of the major general when he retired, so the transition to his next role was an easy one, he says. “My relationship with the Guard has just been outstanding.”
Roach says that applications for assistance may be made through the individual soldier’s National Guard Unit.
He says that members of units still call him “Sgt. Major.”
“That’s OK,” he says. “After 33 years, I’ll be military the rest of my life, I guess.”
Soldiers & Airmen Assistance Fund
7410 Chapel Hill Road
Raleigh, NC 27607-5047
How to help: The purchase of an “In God We Trust” license plate provides funding for the group which keeps $20 of the $30 cost.