In one of his final acts as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Jim Amos pinned Semper Fi Fund founder Karen Guenther with a solid gold eagle, globe and anchor, signaling her admission into the exclusive order of honorary Marines.

The pinning ceremony — a complete surprise to Guenther — took place as the nonprofit marked its 10th anniversary in a Sept. 20 celebration at Marine Barracks Washington. But Amos said the event was a long time in the making.

Because the commandant, as a public official, is restricted from showing preferential treatment to private organizations, Amos said he had waited for about two years to honor Guenther.

"I was afraid that if I did it earlier on, it might send the wrong signal," said Amos, who will retire following the passage of command to Gen. Joe Dunford Oct. 17. "So here I am on my last 28 days as commandant."

Guenther, a Marine spouse, collaborated with other spouses in 2004 to start the Semper Fi Fund with $500 and hopes of assisting wounded service members for a limited time.

"We had a very short vision," she said. "We thought when our husbands came back, we could go back to our day jobs, and we thought it would be maybe a year long. And now, here we are today, busier than ever."

In a decade, the Semper Fi Fund has given away nearly $100 million to wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans. Assistance ranges from funding for adaptive housing for disabled troops to grants that cover rent and lost wages. The Semper Fi Fund has also received positive attention for its transparent practices. With nearly 95 percent of the organization's budget spent on the programs and services it offers, it has a five-star rating on the website Charity Navigator.

After receiving her pin, Guenther said her knees were shaking.

"This is an incredible honor that I will always take with me as long as I live," she said. "... And I did not do this alone. I've just been blessed to have the best friends in the world."

The commandant must personally approve all nominations for honorary Marines, a title reserved for civilians who have made extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps. According to the Marine Corps' community relations website, 13 people have received the honor in Amos' four years as commandant. He personally presented the solid-gold pin to just five, including Guenther.

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