VAC Mission Report: Dr. Howard and Gail Tobin

Since I began flying missions for VAC two years ago, each of the 16 missions has been special in one way or another. What a privilege it has been to give back a little to the young men and women of our armed forces have sacrificed so much. Our last two missions have been unique and demonstrate how much others have given to assist in the rehabilitation of of our injured heros. Former Military Policeman, Michael Paz was involved in multiple IED blasts during back to back tours in Iraq. He suffered hearing loss,physical injures to his knees and back with accompanying PTSD. William Garibaldi had a similar history. He was deployed three times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He also was involved in several IED blasts and is currently medically retired. What was unique about these two men was that both of them were headed to New Braunfuls, TX to take advantage of a wonderful service provided by Operation K9 run by Joan Moss and Janell Stone-Pritzkau. They provide service dogs that help in the rehabilitation of wounded warriors whether they be suffering physical or mental hardship. It was heartwarming to see the faces of these two men as they began to bond with their dogs. As a dog lover myself, I could easily see what a huge difference this would make in their lives. When we arrived in Okmulgee bringing Will home, he was greeted by his wife and kids who were so excited. We couldn't tell whether it was excitement seeing him emerge from a private jet or they were just so glad to see Dad home, or perhaps it was the excitement of meeting the new canine member of the family. Regardless, it brought a bright smile to my wife Gail's face and mine and made us further realize that what we were doing was well worthwhile.

Great Letter from VAC Volunteer Richard Iversen, Colonel, USAF, Retired

It is such an honor to assist those soldiers who return with the signature wounds of the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one thing these men and women all have in common is that they have volunteered to go into the deepest, darkest most dangerous places on earth to preserve American peace at home. They are all heroes and they know and understand fear in a way that thankfully, few Americans do. I have had the privilege to speak with and get to know over 100 wounded American soldiers in 2013 and they all say essentially the same thing when asked why they sacrifice: “We sacrifice not because we have to, we bleed not because we want to, we fight because we need to and sometimes we die, because we love this country.” On one mission request from VAC, we flew Army Sergeant Tyler Jeffries, his mom and dad from Walter Reed Hospital to Ft. Lewis, WA. Sergeant Jeffries, a young man from Florida, lost both legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan just three months before we met him. He wanted more than anything to be at Ft. Lewis to welcome home his platoon as they returned from Afghanistan; the warriors who saved his life on the battle field. When we landed at Ft. Lewis, his entire platoon met him with a red-carpet heroes welcome. He was just learning to walk on his prosthetic legs so we stayed close to him while he struggled with his crutches to stay upright. I will never forget watching Sergeant Jeffries with a huge smile mixed with tears of joy in his eyes as he was greeted by his fellow warriors. Tyler’s mother came over to me and told me she was overwhelmed with joy because this was the first day her son had smiled since he returned home. What a thrill it is for those of us to be even a small part of making this possible for those who have done the heavy lifting for America for so many years. It is important to remember that no matter how much technology improves our weapons or changes the way wars are fought, the heart of a strong military is its people. As you at Veterans Airlift Command always say, “They have heart – They need wings.” It is time for us to return the favor. Every aspect of American life, every business, every industry has benefited from the bravery and sacrifice of America’s Armed Forces. These men and women should get the best care we have to offer. I am grateful for The Veterans Airlift Command who make all the arrangements for us to transport our returning heroes. A huge thanks to Walt, Jen, Maria, Jenna and those who support the Veterans Airlift Command. Richard Iversen, Colonel, USAF, Retired

Letter to our Pilots and Aircraft Owners

I am sharing with you all my husband’s recent experience flying commercially so that you can get a better understanding of how much you help out not only us, but also veterans across America.

My husband, Jack Zimmerman, was asked by a foundation that wanted to support him, and his passion for hunting and send him on a weeklong elk, and white tail deer hunt. Being that we have only flown privately through Veterans Airlift Command, I was tentative about hearing he would be flying commercially. He was injured last March 2011 after stepping over an IED in Afghanistan while serving a 12-month deployment with the 101st Airborne Division. He lost both his legs, above the knee, and most of his right hand and arm. I called the airline he would be flying on ahead of time and went through all my concerns with them, and they assured me, everything would be taken care of.

We arrived to the airport extra early, as I knew with having a 24” metal rod running down his right arm, and an 8” metal plate in his left elbow, along with loose shrapnel throughout his legs, getting through security would be a nightmare. He only had two bags, one, for his medications and other necessities in case the airline lost his luggage, the other, his carry on- easily small enough to fit in the overhead compartments. However, since he was flying alone, and since he had to push his own wheelchair, we were forced to pay and check his extra bag in just because he couldn’t carry it to his gate from security.

We got to the security checkpoint, and with no one assisting him, and myself not being allowed any farther, he had to push himself through while trying to take everything out of his pockets, and get everything out of his backpack attached to his wheelchair. Being that he doesn’t have any fingers on his right hand, he has to wear a splint that covers from his wrist to his elbow, and allows him to push himself in his wheelchair. After airport security tested his splint, and it came back as an “explosive” they were not going to allow him to take it with him. This splint, being the ONLY way he can move himself and being a necessity, they finally allowed him to bring it on the plane. This may have been the part of the days complications that got to me the most because, here sits a veteran, completely helpless in his wheelchair, who has given America the ultimate sacrifice in DEFENDING our country against terrorists and these people are actually going to question his motives going aboard a plane?

My husband is not dangerous.

My husband is a big guy, being 6’3” when he was blown up, and I was worried about how they would actually get him onto the plane. To my understanding, he could take his own wheelchair up to his gate and then “transfer” into one of the airport wheelchairs, where an airport personal would push him aboard the plane. The wheelchairs the airport provided that fit up the aisles of the plane were so narrow, and small, that his shoulders hit the seats as they wheeled him down the aisle, and he couldn’t fit past the first row of economy seats. I would like to add in though, he COULD fit through first class, but there were obviously more important people aboard the plane. So, to get to his seat, he had to get out of the wheelchair and scoot on his bottom down a dirty plane isle that millions of people have walked across until he got to his seat on the plane. He had to do the same when exiting the plane.

Did I mention he had a layover for 3 hours in Denver, where he had to again, scoot on his bottom on and off the plane, and then push himself around an airport looking for his connecting gate, and then sit and wait for 3 hours, just to scoot onto the plane again.

Finally, after a grueling travel day, and upon arriving at his destination, he now received notice that his bags were left behind- his bag, which included the extra battery to his, now dead, wheelchair, and the battery charger.

In this, I didn’t even include the millions of stares from people around you, and the completely terrified person who has to sit next to someone who is missing their legs, and how un human it makes you feel.

I just wanted to write you about our only experience thus far in his injury flying commercially so that you can truly understand how difficult it is for a wounded veteran to fly.

Veterans Airlift command is truly the greatest organization we had ever heard of, and cannot be more thankful for all the pilots who fly for us. Eliminating the security, and layovers, and transportation onto the plane.

I hope that from this, you all know how much we really appreciate your service to us, and how you really are the heroes, and the ones to be thanked.

Megan Zimmerman
The challenge is on. I have challenged one of our VAC volunteers to see who can raise the most money for VAC Hero Flight 2011. The winner of the challenge will have the opportunity to start out our golf event in North Carolina by skydiving onto the golf course right before the shotgun start. After having two kids, I crossed skydiving off my bucket list for being a little too risky, although it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. However, this particular opportunity comes with the benefit of doing a tandem jump with (former Golden Knight) SFC Mike Elliott, who took President Bush for his 85th birthday. Right back in the bucket list. I’m asking you to help me check this off the bucket list the RIGHT way-by actually doing it! And, asking your support of a great cause.

The Ranger Group is donating the jump, so ALL proceeds go directly to VAC. You can also purchase your tickets to our event and even sponsor a table in support of my jump. And, if you can’t make it to our event, but want to support VAC, you can do that too! Feel free to pass this on!

Click HERE to donate:

Thanks for your continued support of our mission,

Jen Salvati
Operations Manager