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Benzel-Select: Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund

After Colonel John “Johnny Mac” McHugh — a 24-year career Army aviator — was killed in action on a routine training mission in Kabul, Afghanistan, his West Point classmates united to ensure his spirit lived on. Education was always of the utmost importance to Colonel McHugh. He was married with five kids and wanted them to have the opportunity to receive a higher education.

Friends of McHugh raised money to allow his kids to pursue this dream. In 2014, the Johnny Mac Soldiers

Fund was established, with the stated mission of granting scholarships to military family members and veterans. Since then, the organization has donated more than $7.5 million and helped more than a thousand recipients pave the path to their futures.

Highways spoke with MaryEllen Picciuto, a U.S. Army veteran and current president of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, about how the organization has affected the lives of so many and plans to continue to do so well into the future.

Tell our readers about the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund and how it’s keeping the legacy of Colonel John M. McHugh alive.

It began as a small effort to help one fallen classmate’s family; it quickly transformed into a mission to help as many military families as possible. Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund was created in 2014 to give back to those who gave, especially those who gave their all, like Johnny Mac. He was our West Point classmate and friend. Now, he is symbolic of all who have served and sacrificed.

How does partnering with other nonprofit organizations, like TAPS, help propel Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund to new levels?

Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund gets money for all of its scholarships through nonprofit partner organizations that align with our mission and values. We have a thorough vetting process to evaluate other organizations’ leaders, fiscal responsibility and transparency, as well as their record of results. By relying on partners to administer our individual scholarships, we keep our overhead very low and our focus on raising more funds. We’ve found this is a very efficient way to accomplish our mission and quickly deliver

meaningful support to those who need it now.

Mercedes-Benz is one of the organization’s national sponsors. How have they supported the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund?

Mercedes-Benz began its national sponsorship of Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund in 2016 with a promise to make a donation to the fund for every Mercedes-Benz vehicle sold in the U.S. In 2017, Mercedes delivered on that promise with $2.8 million in funding for eligible military children. In an extra show of support, Mercedes-Benz donated 100 computers to military children of the fallen for their 2017-18 school year. Countless dealerships have rallied to support military families through the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund as well.

With Benzel-Busch now in the area, are there any upcoming events or collaborations planned?

Each year, we hold the Johnny Mac Memorial Golf Tournament at the West Point Golf Course. This is very

close to Mercedes-Benz of Orange County. We’re also very excited to participate in the grand opening of this new dealership.

Give our readers an insider’s look into this year’s golf tournament at West Point.

Our fifth annual Johnny Mac Memorial Golf Tournament is coming up on Monday, June 4. We expect to sell out with 32 foursomes at the beautiful course at historic West Point. Of all our events, this tournament is especially meaningful since most of our board members met Johnny Mac when they were West Point cadets. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the memory of Johnny Mac and celebrate his legacy. You can register on our website,

What’s next on the list for the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund?

This year, we’ve added two new events to our calendar. The Johnny Mac Golf Classic II takes place at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on September 7, and our inaugural Beverly Hills Gala will be held on November 8. Jimmy Kimmel will serve as our gala host. We are very excited about that!

What else would you like our readers to know about the organization?

There are so many veteran service organizations out there, yet very few have achieved the results of Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund in such a short span of time. I credit our caring supporters, compelling mission and, indeed, our inspiration, Johnny Mac. As Johnny Mac’s West Point classmates, we will continue to answer the call to serve.

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