KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Being a soldier is a commitment that can require a lot from a person. But for Sgt. 1st Class Michael Crone who is currently deployed to Afghanistan, simply serving in the Indiana Army National Guard is not enough. He's working to give more.
Crone is a medic working in Uruzgan province. He works as an adviser for Afghan National Army medics as part of a team of a U.S., Australian and Slovakian coalition forces tasked to help develop the ANA’s capabilities.
After hours, when he is not actively engaged with his partners, Crone has another mission: developing a non-profit organization for veterans at home.
The soldier-turned-philanthropist is the founder of the Service Members Funeral Relief Fund (SMFRF) aimed at assisting the families of retired and former combat veterans. He is now working through the final stages of filing necessary paperwork and obtaining funds required for it to become a full-fledged non-profit organization.
And he’s done it all while being on active duty orders for his current tour.
“I was in the middle of training,” he recalled, “we had a little bit of down time. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but then I just finally bullied myself into actually sitting down and starting it all.”
Crone named his father as his inspiration. He was a World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran who retired from the military after serving in those wars. He passed away at the age of 82 and Crone and his family were left to pay for the funeral service.
While Crone knew he could afford the cost, he said he knows many others in the same situation may not be able to. Even worse, they may not even realize the expense is coming.
“I really want to go out of my way to help families with a financial need,” he said. Crone believes misinformation about veterans’ benefits after passing is one of the biggest obstacles his organization is up against.
“There’s the misconception that just because you were in the military, your funeral is paid for,” Crone said. “I get a lot of questions that say, ‘Why are you doing this? They were in the Army, of course it’s paid for.’”
He said many times veterans and their families are not aware of the costs they will be responsible for, and that’s where he plans to help.
SMFRF hopes to be able to pay up to $2000 per funeral and is slated to make their first donation between February and March.
Sgt. Nicole Smart, who recently served in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is one of 15 of the organization’s volunteers. Once she heard about SMFRF, she immediately wanted to help. Smart made her first donation and plans to work on the project’s marketing team once Crone returns stateside.
He and his team have been working together and keeping in touch online as they watch the project evolve and move toward fruition.
“It’s been great to watch this grow from just an idea a few months ago into the real life project that it is now,” Smart said. “Mike is a very savvy business man. He wasted no time utilizing social media to promote and fundraise. Now after only a few months, he has almost reached his financial goal to obtain his non-profit status completely from donations.”