The Veterans Airlift Command
Many men and women return from war with life-changing physical and mental wounds. They require treatment for years, if not a lifetime, after returning home. But one of their biggest needs lies in the nature of travel.
That’s where the Veterans Airlift Command comes in.
This organization flies wounded warriors and veterans of wars post-September 11, 2001 who are in need of medical services or need to be somewhere for compassionate purposes.
To fly the nation’s heroes, a network of aircraft owners and pilots work with Veterans Airlift Command to meet the needs of wounded military personnel.
The organization was started in 2006 by Walt Fricke, a retired Vietnam veteran, who flew helicopters and was wounded in the line of duty. Once out of the military, Fricke became a successful banker, but always maintained his love of flying.
When Fricke retired from banking, he decided to give back to the community by piloting his own aircraft for the needs of veterans in the Minneapolis area. Things changed for Fricke when he got a call from the Department of Defense asking if he would be willing to provide air transportation for soldiers wounded in combat.
It wasn’t long after that request came in that Fricke pulled together more than 2,000 pilots and aircraft owners willing to pitch in to help him with his new mission.
Serving Wounded Warriors and Veterans
Those traveling need only to present a medical release signed by their doctors in order to fly. From there, volunteers at Veterans Airlift Command take care of the rest.
Passengers facing any number of disabilities are able to fly with Veterans Airlift Command. Although the website states that passengers must be ambulatory, Veterans Airlift Command officials realize that many wounded veterans often times are missing limbs and are unable to get on and off of a plane without assistance. However, whether its employees at the FBO where veterans are flying out of or family members flying along with a veteran, help is always available for any of the wounded who need it.
The only passengers that cannot fly with Veterans Airlift Command are those who are in stretchers. At this time, no air ambulances are available with the organization.
In addition to medical appointments, pilots with the Veterans Airlift Command fly the wounded and veterans to homecoming events, camps, marathons, or to any other event that helps aid in the healing process.
Serving the Families
As military families know, when soldiers go off to battle, a piece of them goes right along with them. That’s why when a family needs to get to their soldier, Veterans Airlift Command is there to make it happen.
Jen Salvati of Veterans Airlift Command said that many times families who are in desperate need of getting to their soldiers then they can get there on commercial airliners through various programs that exist. But sometimes, commercial flights just don’t cut it.
Salvati said that sometimes families who live in remote areas would need to drive several hundred miles to reach the nearest commercial airport to catch a flight to see their wounded loved ones, so what Veterans Airlift Command does is arrange for a private flight. This way, the families are able to catch a ride close to home. This saves these families from the hassle of getting to an airport just to get on a plane and wait even longer to reach their soldiers who are in frightening medical situations.
Salvati said just recently that Veterans Airlift Command helped a father, who had been wounded in war years ago, fly out to his son’s graduation from basic training. She said that the father lost an eye and had a traumatic brain injury, but wanted to fly so that he could be the one to place his son’s rifle pin on his uniform during graduation.
“Some of the stories we have are heartbreaking,” Salvati said. “But some are just really touching. It’s amazing the drive that these guys have to continue doing what they’re doing.”
Contact Veterans Airlift Command
Call 952-585-2911 or go to www.veteransairlift.org to plan a trip or to find out more information. Pilots and aircraft owners can also get in touch with Veterans Airlift Command by calling 952-585-2911.
Anyone interested in donating can do so online or mail a check to Veterans Airlift Command at 5775 Wayzata Blvd, Suite 700, St. Louise Park, MN 55416.
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