The president of Semper Fi Fund, a charity that provides immediate and continuing support to critically wounded, ill and injured service members and their families, has been awarded the joint-service civilian humanitarian award.

Karen Guenther received the Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award in a ceremony Nov. 17 at the Pentagon.

The Semper Fi Fund "has transformed the lives of thousands of wounded service members and their families," wrote Marine Corps Col. Willard A. Buhl, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, in his nomination of Guenther for the award.

"Karen Guenther found a need, and moved quickly to meet it," wrote Buhl, in describing the origins of the Semper Fi Fund in the spring of 2003, when the first wave of wounded Marines and sailors came back. Guenther, a registered nurse and wife of an active-duty Marine, saw the challenges these returning wounded warriors faced, and realized families needed immediate financial aid and other help to lighten their burdens and enable them to focus on helping their loved ones' recovery, he wrote.

Nominations for the award are made by each service branch. A joint selection board from the Army, Navy and Air Force makes the final selection. This year, it was the Army's turn to host the event, and the award was presented by Army Secretary John McHugh. The organization has since expanded its support to include members of the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.

The joint-service award was established in 1996 by the three service secretaries, to recognize an individual or organization showing exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concern for members of the military or their families. The recipient must exemplify the personal qualities of the late Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, who founded the Fisher House Foundation. The first award was presented to the Fishers in 1996.

"While Zachary Fisher loved every member of the U.S. Armed Forces (calling the individual service members their extended family), he had a special passion for the U.S. Marine Corps, the service he tried to join in 1943," Buhl wrote in his nomination.

"If he were alive today, Karen Guenther would be his special friend, as she epitomizes so many of his qualities."

During the Pentagon ceremony, David Coker, president of Fisher House Foundation, praised Guenther for her work on behalf of the military community. Her contributions are "distinguished and legion and they are making a difference in the lives of those we consider to be our greatest national treasure — our military service men and women, and their loved ones," he said.

"Your service is inspirational — your example, humbling."