Joe Henjum “Honoring the Brave” Award – presented to a Coloradan who has honored the brave through their exceptional impact on our military members and their families of all services to include AD, Reserve, NG and Veterans.
Congratulations to the CEO & Founder of Angels of America’s Fallen, Joe Lewis, for his commitment to serving Families of the Fallen. In his humbleness, he had zero idea that he was a finalist for the award and was genuinely shocked when he won! Read more about his nomination, Joe’s history and contributions. Thank you to our partners at Home Front Military Network for honoring Joe!
For your consideration pertaining to the Joe Henjum “Honoring the Brave” Award:
Joe Lewis, CEO & Founder: Angels of America’s Fallen
Though few will ever attain the level of selfless service that Joe Henjum embodies, Joe Lewis has followed a similar path.
Joe is a husband, a father, and a retired Lieutenant Colonel with 25 years of service across the three separate branches of the military. After retiring from the Air Force, Joe founded Angels of America’s Fallen in 2013 to help ensure the children of America’s fallen military, police, fire, and EMS personnel have the support they need during their crucial childhood developmental years to write their own stories of success. Joe honors his Fallen brothers and sisters from every branch of service every day, by supporting the dreams of their children.
To serve children of the Fallen, the legacy of the gift that their service member parent gave by giving their life for our freedoms is the highest level of care that anyone can give to our deserving Veterans and Military members. Joe ensured that ALL children of the Fallen would be eligible for the program by accepting all branches and all causes of death, even and especially when, the VA does not recognize that sacrifice. Joe was clear from the founding of Angels that if a service member wrote a blank check to Uncle Sam payable with their lives, that he would commit to ensuring that their children and surviving spouse were cared for.
Because of this commitment, from the time of loss until the children reach adulthood, Joe has ensured that children who have lost their Fallen hero to combat, training accidents, and illness were taken care of. Furthermore, the largest sector of applicants now come from PTS related suicide and toxic exposures from chemicals in the Middle East, both scenarios where the families do not automatically receive VA or Military benefits. Joe goes to bat for these families in helping them to fight for their benefits and calls upon congressional leaders to hear their plight.
Joe served in the military for 25 years from Private to Lieutenant Colonel with 25 combined years as an enlisted Army cannon crewman in a field artillery unit, a Marine Corps fighter pilot flying F/A-18 Hornets, as a flight instructor, and as a transport pilot, and as an Air Force reconnaissance pilot flying the RC-26. He supported local, state, and federal law enforcement including the FBI, DEA, and U.S. Secret Service. He served at the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC as the Counterdrug Aviation Section Chief, Chief of Domestic Operations, and Chief of Federal Operations Programs. He retired as a Lt Col from the Air Force in 2011 after completing his final tour at the United States Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations Center.
Why so many military branches? Joe broke his back while attending SEERS school and, though he did not realize it at the time, continued to fly until it became apparent he could not. Unable to continue to fly ejection seat aircraft, Joe left the military to pursue a civilian pilot career. When 911 hit, he immediately resigned (after only flying long enough to have paid for his uniforms) and answered the call to serve alongside his brothers and sisters in arms once again in arms to defend our country.
While serving, Joe lost team members in every branch of the service, and each of those that had died were all incredible guys with very small children. One day, while watching his sons play soccer, the realization hit him that the children of his fallen team members did not have anyone to practice with, to throw a ball or to continue to mentor them through their developmental years.
After retiring from military service, feeling called once again to serve, but not knowing how, Joe packed up his belongings and family in an RV to take a year to focus on discovering what services were available for the children of the Fallen. After researching and meeting with Veteran Service Organizations across the country and studying at-risk youth services, Joe realized that though there were amazing immediate grief supports at the time of loss, camp experiences along the way, trips to Disneyland during Christmas and scholarships for when they are older, there is no single entity that existed that walked alongside the families of the Fallen from that time of loss until the youth reach adulthood. Furthermore, he uncovered that the children of the Fallen became high risk for dropping out of school, turning to drugs and alcohol, and committing suicide themselves (especially if the service member or Veteran had committed suicide).
Joe reenrolled in college and pursued an MBA while focusing on every class that he could find regarding best practices for starting, running and cultivating a nonprofit. He sought out mentors and collaborated heavily with others in the fields of Veteran services and at-risk youth services. Joe ran program studies to discover whether engagement in youth athletics or the arts was more beneficial to increasing resiliency in high-risk youth.
For 3 years, Joe did not take a salary and spent down every penny of his savings to launch Angels of America’s Fallen. By building community relationships here in Colorado Springs and throughout Colorado, he began sharing his vision and gaining the support of community partners, funders, sponsors, and activity providers.
Now coming up on 9 years, Joe developed Angels of America’s Fallen as a way to proactively engage the children of our fallen in healthy activities under the guidance of a coach or instructor where they could excel and develop their very own strong sense of self-worth. For his efforts engaging children of our fallen in life saving swimming lessons, he was recognized as one of 2016’s Ten Most Influential People in the Aquatics Industry, at the Association of Aquatics Professionals Conference and has since been recognized across sports, arts and drama sectors for the work that he does.
Throughout the formation of Angels, Joe carried the notion that the mentoring and well-being of his own sons was his biggest concern if he should not return from one of his missions, he felt the need to reach out and help provide mentoring and developmental opportunities that matched each child’s individual interests and needs now in the focus areas of arts, drama, music, sports and leadership.
Joe has assembled a group of incredibly passionate and knowledgeable people to help grow his dream into reality, now serving 400 youth plus their surviving parent, with 600 more on an ever-growing waiting list. Joe is extremely humble and reaches out to industry professionals, nonprofit leaders and military and Veteran advocates to advise programing and measure the efficacy of program delivery.
Through all of this, Joe quietly suffers from the lingering effects of LYMES disease that he contracted while serving and that went undiagnosed for long enough hat it caused severe and permanent lesions on his brain. Through the constant and persistent pain, brain damage and exhaustion he endures to ensure that all children of the Fallen will have the support that they not only need but deserve as a legacy to his Fallen brothers and sisters.
The impact? Recently a young 7-year-old boy in Atlanta, after finding our that he was moving off the waitlist a few months ago, responded that “It means a lot that they care about me and that they believe in me and have faith in me…They care about my Daddy in heaven.” Cooper lost his father to PTS related suicide when there was a delay in orders bringing him back to military service. Coppers dad lost the war just 3 days before his orders came through, meaning that his family does not receive any military benefits.
Joe fills in at schools on Father’s Day when our Angels need someone to stand in and was even called to stand in as a grandparent. Christina, an Angel mom will tell you “Both of my kids have made these huge strides in their personalities and their lives—it’s meant the world to us being a part of Angels…There’s a gap and Angels just fills it.” Her husband, Army SGT was medically retired due to a back injury sustained in Afghanistan and was killed in a car accident as he drove home from the emergency room. His family does not receive any benefits and are not eligible for programs that other Veteran’s family members receive. Emma who was only 18 months old when her father succumbed to his PTS and killed both himself and her mother, in front of her and her brother, now at 15 will tell you, “I love my friends in high school, but none of them have gone through what I have gone through. With Angels, we are all in this together.” The VA denied their family’s benefits and Emma is being raised by her grandmother, a breast cancer survivor who is now in congestive heart failure on a very fixed income.
Though Joe’s own children are grown, and through the chronic pain that he endures, Joe continues to follow through on his commitment to walk alongside the children and families of the Fallen to make sure that they live a life of legacy that their Fallen hero deserves and to ensure that these children do not fall through the cracks.
It is my honor to recommend Joe Lewis, CEO & Founder of Angels of America’s Fallen, Veteran and hero to so many children, for the Joe Henjum “Honoring the Brave” Award. What greater service to our currently serving military and all Veterans to know that Joe has made such a commitment to their children and surviving spouse.