This SEAL suffered two gunshot wounds to his arm and mouth. This is just one more reason we love to serve these wounded warriors.

Charity Flies Soldier to Friends

Photo by Raul R. Rubiera

By Kevin Maurer Staff writer - The Sandspur

When Pfc. Jason Bates left his buddies in Baghdad, he was fighting for his life. A roadside bomb had taken his left leg.
Six months later, Bates returned in style.
Bates arrived Thursday in a small silver turbo prop plane with leather seats. He was in town for the award ceremony for the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment. Bates received a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal.
He was going to fly Southwest to Raleigh from his home in Lubbock, Texas, but the trip would have taken 11 hours — with two layovers — and hundreds of dollars.
Veterans Airlift Command came to the rescue.
Bates’ three-hour flight from Lubbock to Fayetteville on a private plane was free.
Walt Fricke, founder of Veterans Airlift Command, was wounded in Vietnam. He was a helicopter pilot who spent six months in the hospital after being medevaced out of Vietnam in 1968.
“I was 700 miles away from home. I was disconnected from my world,” Fricke said. “My healing didn’t start until I made those connections.”
Fricke started the charity in November 2006 as a one-man operation. His plan was to run it himself and fly just a few veterans around. In a year, it has exploded into a national charity with 550 pilots and airplane owners who donate their time and planes.
Terry Tyler and co-pilot Mark Wells were honored to fly Bates and his family.
Neither Wells nor Tyler served in the armed forces. Both see flying for Veterans Airlift Command as their service.
“The veterans have served us,” Tyler said. “We just give back a little.”
Bates’ plane taxied to the front of the terminal Thursday at Landmark Aviation at the Fayetteville Airport.
As the props stopped spinning, Bates — silver cane in hand — threw open the door and gingerly walked down the steps to the applause of his friends and Army buddies.
“I didn’t think everybody was going to be there,” Bates said.
He was injured in May 2007 when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb.
Sgt. Ezequiel Mora kept pressure on Bates’ wounds as they raced to the hospital.
“We’re going to make it,” Mora told Bates then.
“I know,” Bates said.
Thursday at the airport, Mora was on hand to greet Bates. He said that Bates was the strongest person he knows.
“He wasn’t panicking too much,” Mora said. “He was just saying his leg hurt.”
The friends kept up with each other as Bates healed and Mora finished his deployment in Iraq.
Bates worried about his friends every day.
“As it got closer to them coming back, I was worried more and more that someone was going to get hurt,” Bates said.
With the battalion home, Bates could finally relax. But to Mora, the homecoming wasn’t complete.
“I’ve been looking forward to seeing him since I came back,” Mora said.
On Thursday, as Bates got off the plane, his cane and a slight limp were the only clues to his injury.
As he got closer, Mora and more than 30 paratroopers lined up to greet him. Each soldier shook his hand and hugged him. There were few dry eyes in the bunch, which made most of the paratroopers uncomfortable.
“The sun is bright out here,” joked one paratrooper.
“Where did all this dust come from,” said another, wiping his eyes.
The paratroopers stood near the plane and shared stories and a smoke. At one point, Bates lifted his pants leg and rapped his metal cane against his new metal ankle.
At Friday’s award ceremony, Bates — in uniform but carrying his cane — was almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other paratroopers.
But, the ceremony was only an excuse to make the trip. Bates really came back to Fort Bragg for his friends.
“Its like a big family,” Bates said.
He has come a long way from that day in Baghdad, but the journey was over.
He was home. And so were his buddies.
Staff writer Kevin Maurer can be reached at or 486-3587.

Walt Receives the Microsoft & USO Above and Beyond Award

General Cody Congratulates Walt

America Supports You: Ceremony Recognizes Extraordinary Troop Support

By Samantha L. QuigleyAmerican Forces Press Service

NEW YORK, Nov. 13, 2007 – Americans who offer extraordinary support to the nation’s servicemembers got the red-carpet treatment yesterday during a luncheon held in their honor at the famous Rainbow Room restaurant here.

Microsoft Corp., in partnership with the United Service Organizations, honored the winners of the first Microsoft Above and Beyond Awards. Microsoft recently became a corporate supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad. USO also is a supporter of the program.

More than 400 nominations were received for the awards. The public was invited to choose the winners from finalists in five categories. The votes totaled more than 30,000.

The winners are:

-- Outstanding Effort Award: Soldiers’ Angels. Patti Patton-Bader started the organization when she discovered her son, who was serving in Iraq, was giving the care packages she was sending to troops who weren’t getting any mail. Since its beginning, the group has grown to include more than 100,000 volunteers who regularly send care packages to servicemembers as well as other programs that benefit military families.

-- Medical Attention Award: Veterans Airlift Command. Walter Fricke, the organization’s founder, is a retired helicopter pilot and a Vietnam veteran who spent six months recovering from a combat injury. His organization’s network of volunteer pilots provides transportation to reconnect recovering veterans and their families. The 500 pilots in the network have flown more than 180,000 miles to reunite hundreds of families.

-- Youth Leadership Award: Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Mass. The teenage siblings started Cell Phones for Soldiers after hearing of a soldier who had run up an $8,000 phone bill calling home from overseas. Shocked that the military doesn’t cover calls home, they worked to make sure servicemembers can stay in touch with family by recycling old cell phones and using the cash to purchase prepaid calling cards that they send to troops serving overseas.

-- Everyday Difference Award: Army Maj. Todd Schmidt, founder of Operation Dreamseed. The organization has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of textbooks, supplies and clothing to school children in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. Schmidt got the idea while on patrol in Afghanistan after noting that the more the troops supported community schools, the more forthcoming the citizens were with important information that facilitated the U.S. military mission.

-- USO Promotion and Success Award: Paulette Nelson, of Savannah, Ga. Nelson makes sure that every servicemember passing through Fort Stewart’s Hunter Army Airfield gets a welcome home or a farewell. The time of day is of no concern, and she often spends 12 or more hours welcoming troops or seeing them off. She also volunteers in the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport’s USO lounge.

Soldiers’ Angels, Veterans Airlift Command, Cell Phones for Soldiers and Operation Dreamseed are supporters of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program. “We’d like to thank the exceptional individuals who go above and beyond every day to brighten the lives of our troops in a spirit that is akin to that of the USO,” said Brian Whiting, president of USO New York, during the ceremony. “You put a name and a face to the genuine goodness, compassion and solidarity that are hard at work in this country every day.

“So often it is the unthinkable, the unimaginable, that make the headlines,” he added. “So it is particularly refreshing to focus on, and to celebrate, a few of the everyday heroes among us.”

Michael Allen, director of business strategy and operations for Microsoft’s federal division, said the corporation was excited to recognize these very deserving individuals.

“They are amazing people,” he said. “Every one of them said, ‘This isn’t about me. This is about the families. You’re giving me a way to, hopefully, inspire others (and) bring more people to what I’m doing. But really, it’s about the troops.’”

While all of the award winners were pleased about their awards, they were even more excited about the awareness that recognition from two well-respected organizations would bring to the troops and the need to support them.

“Just to know that Microsoft and the USO know who we are is a huge honor,” Brittany Bergquist said. “It’s a great feeling for us, and it brings … awareness to what troops have to go through daily.”

Patton-Bader also said the award would remind people of what the nation’s troops are enduring.

“It has been a long road since my oldest son returned from Iraq, and my youngest is in Camp Fallujah right now,” she said. “This award will hopefully remind people we still have our sons and daughters in harm’s way. Only by our collaborative efforts can we hope to give the great support our heroes deserve.”

Those collaborative efforts are paying off, according to two senior military leaders who attended the award ceremony.

Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the support these smaller organizations, as well as larger groups such as the USO, offer troops is vital.

“They’re just always there for us. These people just give,” he said. “They give well beyond what anyone asks them to give.”

Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody said efforts like those that earned the recipients their awards stand as a lesson to the American public. “

(These groups) show America how they can get behind our soldiers,” he said. “They don’t have to put a uniform on to support our soldiers. Just a calling card, or (frequent flier) miles or the gifts at Christmas time, even just … sending messages to those who are downrange telling them that you care about them” remind servicemembers they have support back home, he added.

Actress Joely Fisher emceed the star-studded event, attended by celebrities from TV shows “Rescue Me” and “Friday Night Lights.” Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe also were on hand.

Wounded Soldier Returned to Valparaiso

Sunday, October 7, 2007

BY KEN KOSKY 219.548.4354

VALPARAISO Wounded soldier Edward "E.J." Trautner, of Valparaiso, has endured so many surgeries that he's lost count.But every time he and his family have to fly from Valparaiso to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the one thing they don't have to worry about is transportation.A new nonprofit organization, Veterans Airlift Command, provides free flights to wounded warriors, veterans and their family members. The organization has an ever-growing list of hundreds of pilots and airplane owners who donate their time and resources to serve those who have served the country.Trautner, who was shot in the head by a sniper while manning an Iraqi checkpoint on Aug. 24, 2006, has taken several flights arranged by Veterans Airlift Command, including one on Saturday. On Saturday, he and his mother, Stacy Fellers, flew into Porter County Municipal Airport on a private jet."Even though the person who sponsored the plane wants to remain anonymous, I'd like to thank them," the 21-year-old Trautner said."It just makes me feel really good to know there are people willing to donate their time and help."His mother added that "it's downright patriotic" and greatly appreciated.Pilots Tom Rea, of Valparaiso, and Jim Sheely, of LaCrosse, were captains of Saturday's flight, which marked their first chance to help a soldier and Veterans Airlift Command."I spent 20 years in the military, so I like to help when I can ... I'm glad to help," Rea said."I'm a Vietnam veteran and my son was in Iraq," Sheely added."I'm just glad to help any soldier who has been injured."Trautner, his family and the pilots talked to the media in hopes of spreading the word about Veterans Airlift Command so that more pilots and aircraft owners will volunteer, so more people will donate and so other soldiers will know free flights are available to them.Walt Fricke said he founded the Veterans Airlift Command because of a personal experience."I spent six months in a hospital 700 miles from my hometown recovering from combat injuries sustained while flying a helicopter in Vietnam," Fricke said."My healing began in earnest when my family was able to gather the resources to make a trip to visit me."Fricke said his organization has arranged 150 "missions" in its first year of operation.Trautner, who still has a few more surgeries on the horizon, plans to retire from the Army in the near future and hopes to attend law school at Valparaiso University with the goal of becoming a district attorney. He gave up his original plan to be a police officer because he lost his right eye in the sniper attack in Iraq.Trautner's mother is employed by VU and his stepfather, Scott Fellers, works at Beta Steel -- and both said their employers have been accommodating, making the past year easier for the family.Visit for more information. For more info:

Veterans Airlift Command Receives Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarion Leadership

Veterans Airlift Command to Receive NBAA Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership

Award to Be Presented at NBAA's 60th Annual Meeting & Convention

Contact: Dan Hubbard at (202) 783-9360 or

WASHINGTON, DC, September 14, 2007 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today announced that the Veterans Airlift Command will be presented with the NBAA Al Ueltschi Humanitarian Award in recognition of the organization’s work to provide flights for wounded soldiers, veterans and their families.“The generosity of the aircraft owners, pilots and others affiliated with Veterans Airlift Command epitomizes the sense of community and service that NBAA recognizes with the Ueltschi Humanitarian Award,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.The airlift provides air transportation for medical and other compassionate purposes through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots. NBAA’s Al Ueltschi Humanitarian Award will be presented to Walter Fricke, the founder of Veterans Airlift Command, at NBAA’s 60th Annual Meeting & Convention, being held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA, from September 25 to 27.Al Ueltschi, the award's namesake, has been widely recognized for his lifetime of dedication to philanthropic causes. He was instrumental in the development of ORBIS, an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing blindness and saving sight. Ueltschi, who has served as ORBIS's chairman for more than 20 years, has made a number of significant financial contributions to the organization and has been instrumental in developing many of its most important initiatives.Reporters and Editors: For more information about the Veterans Airlift Command, visit Register to attend NBAA’s 60th Annual Meeting & Convention by visiting

Mission: LT Seth Reimers

The healing that takes place when soldiers are reunited with their buddies after being separated by injuries sustained in combat (and the treatment which follows) makes for very rewarding missions, as some have experienced. The impact of the mission described below can only be imagined by those who have suffered the sudden and permanent loss of a comrade or family member in our nation’s defense. Try to put yourself in the place of a family wanting to know about the last 10 months in the life of their son thru the eyes of his Platoon Leader. That’s what the mission described below was all about. As it was a “round robin” trip returning to MN, I was fortunate to be able to accompany the young LT., meet the families, as well as three of our volunteer pilots. I KNOW what we do makes a difference. I only wish all Americans could have shared my experience that day.
Read on to find out what Seth had to say about the mission….

Lieutenant Seth Reimers & Tim Fyda

On behalf on myself, my unit, and the families involved in my mission I am writing to tell my story of an amazing adventure that was made possible by the generous people from Veterans Airlift Command.
My name is 1LT Seth Reimers and I am an Army Wounded Warrior. I was injured in Mahmudiyah, Iraq on April 19, 2007 during a rocket attack while serving as a Platoon Leader for TF 2-15, 2 BCT, 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York. I have spent the last four months undergoing an extensive amount of healing tending to both my physical and emotional wounds.
I spent eight and a half months in Iraq serving with my motorized infantry platoon before being wounded. I, with the help of five professional NCOs, lead a 22 man platoon on over 130 combat missions. The platoon I lead had been formed in February of 2006 back at Fort Drum. Almost immediately the bonds began to form among all members. After six months of hard training we deployed in August of 2006 to begin our fight alongside the many faces of the Iraqi Security Forces. Little did we know but the road ahead of us would change us forever and be anything but easy.
After being wounded in Iraq I spent a month at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. My healing progressed rather quickly and I soon found myself being transferred to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is where I met Mr. Walt Fricke, CEO and Founder of Veterans Airlift Command. Mr. Fricke came to visit with me one day during one of my therapy rest sessions. We spoke only briefly but I quickly learned that Mr. Fricke's intentions were unique and real.
As time passed I healed and made daily improvements. While I concentrated on my recovery my soldiers continued to take the fight to the enemy in Iraq.
Unfortunately that did not come without a very high cost. I lost two young soldiers during the month of May. This undoubtedly put a damper on my recovery efforts. Sergeant Justin D. Wisniewski and Private First Class Matthew A. Bean both were killed during combat operations.
I continued to work on my recovery and finally was able to move to my home in Ogden,Iowa where I could continue my healing. It was here that decided that I wanted to go and see the families of my two fallen soldiers in their hometowns. I contacted Mr. Fricke to run my idea past him. I received almost an instantaneous response letting me know that he would do all he could do to make this happen. He went to work and developed an itinerary for me to leave from St. Paul, Minnesota and fly to Saginaw, Michigan to see the Wisniewski Family, then overnight at Fort Drum, NY, to be followed by a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts to see Matthew Bean's Family. Not only was my trip going to be provided by three volunteer pilots, but Mr. Fricke was going to accompany me on the trip offering his support and guidance as he has traveled down similar roads a few years back.
Our trip began on August 31, 2007 as we departed from the downtown St. Paul Airport via a beautiful jet flown by Mr. Ian Scott. The smooth flight commenced as we landed at the Saginaw-Silver City International airport where I was able to meet with the Wisniewski Family. I spent three wonderful hours with the family at their home reminiscing about Justin and tending to questions and concerns that they had. It was a very rewarding stop for me and I believe that the family truly appreciated my visit.
After my visit to the Wisniewski's, we were off to Fort Drum where we spent the night recharging for our next visit the following day. While we were at Fort Drum, Mr. Fricke and I were both able to meet up with some fabulous friends and acquaintances to include Major General Michael Oates, The Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Mrs. Marlene Morschauser, my Battalion Commander's wife.
The night was over before we knew it and we were boarding a beautiful plane the next morning owned and operated by Mr. Dale Thuillez. He took us on a gorgeous flight from upstate New York to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Upon reaching the ground I was greeted by Matthew Bean's family. Again I was treated to several hours of therapeutic visiting with Matt's family. This opportunity provided the family and I to indulge in priceless conversations.
Time flew in Plymouth. We were soon on our return flight to St. Paul courtesy of Mr. Tim Fyda and his gorgeous jet. This flight back to Minnesota afforded me the opportunity to reflect on our mission to visit the two families. Between talking to Mr. Fricke and Mr. Fyda I was able to isolate the importance of this trip. Not only was the trip meant to assist the families, but it definitely offered me the chance to find closure in the deaths of my two soldiers. I have fought an uphill battle in my own physical recovery but by making a trip like this I quickly learned just how lucky I really am. A lot of people might think that it's my job as a leader to make this trip. The bottom line is that I didn't make this trip to fulfill my obligations as a leader in today's Army, but I did it as a friend who lost two brothers. When you endure something like war with a group of your closest buddies, it's hard to imagine that you actually might not finish with everyone you started with. The emotional bonding that takes place is second to none and the loss of a comrade continually reverberates through the unit. Soldiers sometimes die, but the memories that they leave behind are priceless and live on forever. Families are often one of our only resources to tap into that legacy left behind, and I can imagine that the families have similar feeling about the soldiers that their loved one served with. This is exactly why these visits are so important.
I cannot thank Veterans Airlift Command enough for what they have done for me. Life goes on for those of us left behind after the chaos of war has taken its toll. It is a blessing to have people in my life like Mr. Walt Fricke and the three amazing pilots that made my mission happen. You are all impeccable men and have done this country and it's service men and women well. Thank you again and I wish you the best in all your endeavors.
Seth Reimers

Mission: John Kriesel goes back to Walter Reed from Oshkosh

What at awesome week we had at EAA's Airventure in Oshkosh, WI. Sgt. John Kriesel, his wife Katie and two sons 4 and 6 year old Broden and Elijah were there as guests of EAA, AVWEB and the VAC. John was severely wounded in Iraq last fall, having given both legs in defense of freedom. He's an inspiration to everyone he meets. While he was home to greet his unit returning from IRAQ, he took the time to drive our Hummer from DC to OSHKOSH for the purpose of exposure to the aviation community and the general public. (I believe we have recruited some twenty new aircraft as a result.)

John was a magnificent spokesman and was interviewed by the airshow announcer during the performance of the Veterans Airlift Command Flight Demonstration Team which performed its "Salute to the Armed Forces" airshow twice during the week long event.

John says he wants to learn to fly...and his boys were adequately exposed to aviation as well :-)

We met a number of our volunteer pilots at the show (thank you for stopping by to see us) and recruited some new ones as well.

The highlight of the show (for VAC) was the departure from airshow center on Wed. of one of our volunteers (Phil Tholen with co-pilot Kris Kelly) in a Premier Jet with Sgt. Kriesel and his family aboard for their trip back to Minneapolis to drop the kids with grandparents, then on to Walter Reed in DC where John continues his physical therapy. It was a fitting end to the airshow to have one of our heroes aboard the first flight out of Oshkosh when the airfield opened.

Follow this link to the article written online by EAA.

Walter L. Fricke
Veterans Airlift Command
952 582-2911

Mission: PFC Bryan Lamartiniere

We have some fantastic volunteers. A couple of days before the Fourth of July I found out that we needed to get a mom in Louisiana up to Kansas to be with her son after he had surgery. I thought we might have difficulty filling the mission since it needed to happen over the 4th with very little notice. (Although I can't think of a better way to spend Independence Day than serving our wounded warriors).

I got a quick response from Scott Hallock, one of our pilots based in Manhattan, KS the evening of the 2nd. He was able to do the mission, and the weather looked best to leave the next day. He called the passenger, Connie, to get everything arranged, and they were on their way to Fort Riley on the evening on the 3rd. He went above and beyond driving Connie to the post and making sure she had lodging. They arrived shortly after midnight on the 4th, and to quote Scott (Former US Army Special Forces Officer), " I couldn't have envisioned a better way to spend the 4th than what I did."

Since the mission was on such short notice, we still had to try to find a pilot to get Connie home the following week. Walt got on the phone and was successful in finding a jet owner (Dennis Mullin-S.P.S Holdings) in Manhattan to donate his pilot (Edmund Hill) and aircraft to get Connie back home to Louisiana. This was the first time they had heard about Veterans Airlift Command, and they were happy to help.
Below is a letter we received from Connie after the mission was complete:

I am writing this email to thank Veterans' Airlift for all they have done for me and my son. I am very grateful for the opportunity to visit with my son after he was wounded in Iraq. Though my son's injury was not life threatening, it may end his career in the Army. He loves serving and now has to wait to see if he will be able to continue to do that.
It meant a lot to me to see him, and I know it meant a lot to my son to have someone from his family there, when he was so quickly taken away from his fellow soldiers in Iraq. Not serving in war time or in the military, I cannot understand fully the bonds that are formed, but I do know that those bonds are strong and they last a lifetime. This is made quite evident by your organization. You continue to serve your country and have shown that you will support those service men and women, who are now in the service of their country.
Both pilots were great and made me feel at ease, even though I am a big chicken about flying. Mr. Hallock was so very helpful. He made sure that I got on base, had lodging, and carried me to the hospital to see my son. He also made sure that I had a ride to my lodging. I simply do not have the adequate words to express my gratitude to your organization, the Wounded Soldiers organization, and to these two wonderful pilots that brought me to see my son and to take me home again.
Again thank you from the depths of my heart for your help and may God continue to bless this organization.

Connie Stilgoe and PFC Bryan Lamartiniere

Meet Scott Smiley

Captain Scott Smiley

We are fortunate to have the advisory board that we do. We have some highly esteemed folks. We knew Scott Smiley was a great representative of our soldiers when we asked him and his wife, Tiffany (the other half of a great team!) to serve with us in support of the mission of the VAC. Little did we know that the Army Times was vetting the “cream of the crop” of US Army to name a Soldier of the Year. Last week, in Washington, the honor for this award fell to Captain Scott Smiley. Please note the article below and check out his bio on our website. We are PROUD of our advisory board and this is another reason why. HOOAH Scotty!

Walter L. Fricke
Veterans Airlift Command

2007 Army Times Soldier of the Year

CAPTAIN Scott M. Smiley Headquarters , US Army Accessions Command,Fort Monroe, Virginia

Assignment: Individual Training Assessment Team, Army Accessions Command, Fort Monroe, Va.Personal: His wife, Tiffany, gave birth to their first baby, a son named Grady, on May 12.

By Gina

FORT MONROE, Va. - Capt. Scott Smiley says store clerks don't always realize he's blind until he has handed them a credit card and doesn't extend his hand when they try to give it back.His blindness hasn't kept him from surfing in Hawaii, skiing in Colorado, skydiving in Texas, running on post or working out at the gym.
Nor has it stopped him from pushing ahead with his Army career, one that started with his 2003 graduation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and could well have ended April 6, 2005, in Mosul, Iraq, when he faced down a car bomber from the hatch of his Stryker combat vehicle.
He had been hit by improvised explosive devices and seen the devastation of car bombs, "but I'd never been faced with yelling at a guy who blows himself up," said Smiley, 27.
When the car bomber detonated his payload just 30 yards in front of the Stryker, Smiley's eyes were destroyed, his left frontal lobe lacerated and the right side of his body paralyzed. The total loss of his eyesight appears to be the only lasting physical effect.
That moment - and his decision not to shoot the driver - would change his life forever.
"That's the hard thing about the war we're fighting over there," said Smiley, who was a platoon leader with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.
"We're fighting civilians - all they have to do is drop their weapons and they're a civilian again."
The driver's behavior - and the visibly weighed-down vehicle he was driving - raise Smiley's suspicions. He yelled and fired two warning shots at the ground, but the driver behaved passively and even put his hands up as if surrendering.
"You can't just shoot someone because you think he's a bomber," said smiley. "He could have had a bunch of metal in the back of his car; he might have been from out of town and lost."
But he wasn't lost - and now Smiley knows that by taking the brunt of the car bomb's explosion, he saved the lives of other soldiers who might have been targeted down the road.
"I would have had a .50-cal blow his head off if I had known," Smiley said, crediting his shattered Oakley M Frame ballistic glasses with saving his life.
As for his continued good fortune, Smiley credits a higher source.
"I definitely believe God has been with me and blessed me beyond words. It's not a normal thing for a totally blind soldier to serve and to keep giving back to the Army," Smiley said.
Lt. Gen. Robert VanAntwerp, who nominated Smiley for Army Times Soldier of the Year, said of the captain, "There's no 'say no' in him. He wants to do it all. He's not daunted by the challenge. He loves soldiering," he said.
VanAntwerp paved the way for Smiley to spend a year with the Individual Training Assessment Team at U.S. Army Accessions Command, Fort Monroe, Va. There, he used a special computer and audio equipment he acquired through the Tricare system to do his work.
During his time at Accessions Command, he traveled around the Army to talk to both healthy and wounded soldiers about honor, duty service to country, and the value of staying in the Army to contribute hard-earned expertise. He, his wife Tiffany and their new baby, Grady, have since moved to North Carolina, where Smiley will pursue a master's degree in business administration from Duke University.
"He's an example for all soldiers. He has stepped up to make sure others don't fall behind," said Col. Mary Carstensen, director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program. Carstensen said Smiley is one of only 39 severely wounded soldiers who continue to serve on active duty.
"He challenges soldiers to stretch themselves and establish goals," she said.
His friends and family say Smiley's faith in God and lifelong determination have kept him steady.
Some call him a "stud" whose blindness "hasn't changed him in any way but to make him better."
"He's always been a strong kid, a man of character. He's my younger brother, but a brother I look up to in many ways," said Capt. Neal Smiley, a Special Forces soldier serving overseas.
After Duke University, the family will move to West Point, where Smiley will teach management and the philosophy of military leadership.


2007 Army Times Soldier of the Year CAPTAIN Scott M. Smiley HEADQUARTERS , US Army Accessions Command, Fort Monroe , Virginia
While deployed in Mosul , Iraq leading his platoon of Stryker soldiers, Captain Scott Smiley attempted to slow down a suspicious vehicle as an effort to protect his platoon. Unfortunately, it did not stop. Captain Smiley was hit by shrapnel in the face when the suicide bomber detonated, causing a brain injury and permanent blindness. Although Captain Smiley almost lost his life, it did not affect his spirit as he has continues to live his life by his faith and not by his sight.
Everyone believed his career was over since a blind person cannot serve in the military. Yet, Captain Smiley felt he still owed back – for his education at West Point and his service obligation, and that he could still make a contribution. He spent a long time recovering, yet Captain Smiley inspired everyone else he came into contact with. His senior leaders state that “his faith, drive, and bravery are inspirational”, and that “he knows what it takes to overcome adversity. And, no one does it more effectively.”
Captain Smiley refused to give up on his strong desire to return to full active duty, and was assigned to the US Army Accessions Command under the Wounded Warriors Program. He is 1 of 39 severely-wounded soldiers serving on active duty and he serves as an advocate for this program, advising them on Army resources that assist those who are wounded with their lives and still want to serve.
Captain Smiley travels across the country to various military training centers and schools, providing his expertise on enemy tactics and advising military personnel on current training needs for soldiers deploying to current war zones. He has led an effort to rewrite training and doctrine regulations that have been completely vetted by brigade commanders and their sergeants major, and it has been touted as the best revision anyone has seen in the past.
This past summer Coach Mike Krzyzewski invited him to talk to the US National Basketball team as they prepared for the World Championships, motivating them with the same message of courage and faith he shares with hundreds of service members he has encountered since his injury. Captain Smiley's efforts play a major role in the Army's Strategic Outreach Program, reaching into the public arena as he shares the Army story, one of concern and compassion, in national, regional and local media.
Captain Smiley finds no obstacles to living life and musters the courage to do it every day – walking to work by memorizing the number of steps and the directions to turn, enjoying any physical activity (running, cycling, surfing, sky diving, and snow skiing) and just earlier this week, he climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington, proving that he is truly “ARMY STRONG”. His senior officer said, “Scotty embodies the Army Values and demonstrates them in principle and practice every day.” “He inspires you to be more than you though you could be, just by him being himself,” says another.
A native of Pasco , Washington , Captain Smiley and his wife Tiffany, have a newborn son, Grady Douglas. They have recently moved to Durham , North Carolina , for Captain Smiley to attend graduate school at Duke University , with a follow-on assignment as a faculty member at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the Leadership Department. Please join all of our readers as we salute Captain Scott M. Smiley as this year's Army Times Soldier of the Year.

Mission: Healing for Families of Our Fallen Soldiers

Captain Kevin Landeck

PFC Matthew Bean

This entry was written by Marlene Morschauser, wife of LTC Robert Morschauser:

It is hard for me to find words to express my deep appreciation and gratitude to Veterans Airlift Command. The reason for my struggle is that I honestly believe the words do not exist. I will do my best, however, to share my experience w/ this phenomenal organization.

In August, my husband LTC Robert Morschauser, deployed his Battalion to Mahmaydiyah, Iraq for a 12 month, now 15 month tour. Sadly, on February 2, 2007, our unit suffered our first KIA. Capt Kevin Landeck was killed in action when his vehicle struck an IED. Kevin was 26 years old, married for a year, loved by all who knew him. As the unit remained forward, those of us here scrambled for ways to afford airfare for the funeral in Chicago. It is certainly no cliché to say that when you join the Army, you become part of a unique family within itself. It was not an option for those in a leadership role not to attend Kevin’s services. I contacted Mr. Fricke and he immediately sprung into action. Within hours I was told that not only had he secured air transportation, but ground transportation as well. This remarkable generosity enabled myself (Battalion Commanders Spouse), the Battery Commander’s spouse, the Battery lst SG (home on r & r) and his wife, to attend the funeral. Our presence at Kevin’s funeral affected those involved in different forms. It helped us to provide comfort and support to Kevin’s wife Bethany, as well as his parents. It also gave our husbands solace in the fact that although they could not attend, there was proper representation on behalf of the unit. We were able to provide the link between his unit family in Iraq to his family mourning him in Illinois.

Sadly, tragedy struck our unit once again on May 31, 2007, when 22 year old PFC Matthew Bean was killed while searching for 3 missing soldiers from our sister unit. Matthew loved landscaping, playing his guitar, and being outdoors. He proposed to his girlfriend Sarah right before deploying. They had just started to plan their future together. Once again, I placed the call to Mr. Fricke. This time my husband, home on R & R, felt very strongly about attending a service for his own soldier, whom he loves as his own. Once again-Mr. Fricke went into action and Mr. Quinn agreed to fly this mission as well. The town of Pembroke, Massachusetts came out to support Matthew and his family. American flags lined the streets as we drove to the grave site. My husband was so moved by what he saw, the emotions came pouring out. Being out of country for almost a year, hearing the media reports about the war, it gave my husband a sense of what this country is really about. It showed him the support of so many Americans. He kept saying over and over again, I wish I had a camera so I could show all the guys. It was also beneficial for Matthew’s family to feel the love of his commander and unit. Again, it gave unit closeness to the family.

When the Fischer House initially provided me w/ the veteran airlift command contact info, I found it hard to believe that such generosity would be extended. However, after speaking w/ Mr. Fricke and our pilot, Mr. Quinn, I realized their genuine care, dedication and support for soldiers and their families. The level of professionalism and kind manner in which they conducted themselves is remarkable. While “thank you” seems like such an inadequate response to your actions, I will say it anyway “THANK YOU” on behalf of the soldiers and families of 2-15 FA BN. I look forward to the day that Veterans Airlift no longer needs to exist, but when that day comes, I will know that I have been touched by amazing people who were a part of it.


Marlene Morschauser2-15 FA BN FRG Advisor

Mission: Chad Watson

Dear Fellow Volunteers,
I just recently completed my first mission. For those of you who have
already had the privilege of flying a mission, you know what it's
like. For those of you who are yet to fly or have not quite decided
if this is for you, let me tell you it was one of the most gratifying
days of my life!
I picked Chad up at the Matoon, IL airport and returned to the D.C.
area to continue his rehab at Walter Reed. It is impossible to
adequately describe in words the upbeat and positive mental attitude
Chad has, as well as the driver who met us at the airport in
Gaithersburg, MD.
Chad was full of excitement and described what he had been through
since his injuries. You can tell just by being around him that
because he lost a leg that it is in no way a disability! He never
once hinted or even mentioned anything that he couldn't do now, but
only excitedly spoke of the things he could do and was going to do!
His rehab is three months ahead of schedule. He was explaining to me
how lucky he was. To quote Chad, he said; "When I got to Walter Reed,
I saw how lucky I was. They didn't have to do anything to me, just
cut part of my leg off, and it only took eight (8) surgeries to get me
fitted for the prosthetic." You had to be there to hear how
enthusiastic he was when he said this to me.
Having heard all of the horror stories about Walter Reed, I asked Chad
for his opinion. He said he loved it there and Walter Reed was great.
He said he gets better each day he is there.
When I dropped Chad off, he and his driver thanked me so much it was
almost embarrassing. I felt so humbled because these young folks have
made such a great sacrifice and are so grateful for what the VAC is
doing, and what we do pales in comparison to what they are doing for our country.
It is something you'll have to experience because I can't describe it,
and you'll come away from your mission with one of life's greatest
God Bless Our Veterans

Chuck Myers

Mission: Wes Schubert

The following entry was written Katie Pribyl, one of our volunteer pilots from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association:

Recently, my colleague, Greg Bowles, and I had the distinct privilege of flying our first VAC mission. We work for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in downtown Washington, DC and we operate a new Cessna 182. I am not sure who was more excited about this mission: the two of us or our passengers. We just can not think of a better way to use general aviation than for a soldier whose sacrifice is too great to measure.
Wes Schubert was injured on his second tour to Iraq when enemy fire sent a bullet through his neck and face. He gives credit to members of his unit for pulling him to safety. In his months and months of recovery, he had not yet had a chance to say thank you to those he credits for saving his life. The Veterans Airlift Command and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association were honored to give him and his wife, Erica, this important opportunity.
In addition, both Wes and Erica were very gracious in allowing Washington's NBC Channel 4 to come out to Montgomery County Airport and cover the flight. His inspiring story is one that all Americans should hear, but having the news coverage also gave us an opportunity to raise awareness for Veterans Airlift Command. VAC has a special need here in the DC metro area given their great working relationship with Walter Reed Medical Center in nearby Bethesda. Our hope is that potential volunteers in this area will answer the call after seeing the segment.
It was a pleasure to accomplish our mission with fantastic passengers. It was the first long trip in a small plane for the both of them. The highlight of the flight occurred while crossing the mountains of West Virginia. A sunny day was turning overcast as we flew beneath a layer of cumulus clouds just over the mountain valleys below. Light chop seemed to keep good pace with the music that pumped from our XM radio. Our passengers enjoyed the view and the comfortable ride to the small GA strip that was within minutes of their weekend destination.
During the interview, the reporter had asked me what we get out of donating our time and airplane. My answer is hope. Hope that this trip will give Wes some closure with those he feels he owes his life to, and hope that he gains new motivation for recovery as he heads back to Walter Reed for two more years of surgeries.

Katie Pribyl
General Aviation Manufacturers Association

Mission: Peter Johns

Here's a note I received last week from one of our pilots, Bill Kendrick:

Peter Johns was severely burned about a year ago in an electrical fire while serving on a US Navy carrier. He's had surgery to reconstruct his face, and his hands are so disfigured that he has to wear gloves. Despite these and other complications, his goal is to get back to active duty.
On April 8th, I had the honor of transporting Peter and his mother from Denton, TX to San Antonio, TX, where he's receiving treatments for his injuries. I was inspired by his patriotism and his positive attitude. I hope he reaches his goal.

Feel free to comment on stories you read here, or send me your own stories to post.


Mission: Andrew Love

Tuesday June 5th was a significant milestone for USMC Corporal Andrew Love. He walked 100 yards without a walker. The last time I saw him (about three weeks ago) was at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center where he was struggling to walk WITH a walker. The 100 yards he walked on Tuesday was through a gauntlet of American flags held high by Patriot Guard Riders and a crowd of hundreds of well wishers who had gathered to welcome home this young Marine. His arrival to a hero’s welcome in a corporate aircraft was the direct result of the generosity Tri-State Drilling and their chief pilot, Mike Wiskus.

There’s more to the story of Drew’s recovery than meets the eye. When his Humvee was blown up by an IED last October, it didn’t look as though Drew would survive. His pulse was not discernable and he appeared to have stopped breathing several times before being medivaced to a surgical unit. After nearly a month in a coma, Drew began to show signs of life. He was shipped to the VA Poly Trauma Center in Minneapolis where they specialize in brain injuries. At the same time, he began to recover from having broken nearly every bone in the right side of his body.

After a long and arduous recovery from the multitude of injuries, it appeared that Drew had reached a plateau about a month ago. The VA began making preparations to send him to an extended care facility in his home state when we got a call from his father asking if it would be possible for members of his unit to be flown to Minneapolis for a visit. Knowing the value of reconnecting wounded warriors with their buddies, we did everything possible to accommodate this trip.

We found several volunteers to bring two lifts of friends from Saginaw, MI to Minneapolis to encourage Drew in his recovery. We had no idea of the full impact that this would have on his recuperation. All involved were delighted to meet and fly Drew’s platoon mates. Not only did he get to see his platoon Sgt. and best buddies, he also got to see and spend time with the medic who was credited with saving his life (the blast killed three other Marines).

These guys were intent on breaking Drew out of the hospital for an evening’s R&R to cheer him up and encourage him to keep on. They succeeded.

Three weeks later, when we flew Drew and his family home for the final time, he WALKED to the airplane under his own power and from the plane to the terminal upon arrival to the amazement of those who had seen his recovery slow to a crawl only weeks before.

This is why we do what we do!

Saginaw Channel 12 News did a great story on Drew's homecoming, and you will find the link under News Stories (Wounded Marine Returns Home).



Having spent the better part of the last year developing the framework of the Veterans Airlift Command, and now having passed the 100 mission mark, I thought it might be good to begin to write more often about what we do . I have always thought it a good idea to communicate with our volunteers and other interested parties on a more regular basis, but have been far too busy designing web applications, recruiting pilots and aircraft owners, spreading the word at military hospitals and scheduling missions to get much else done.

My original intent was to make my airplane available to families around MN traveling to and from our VA hospital. You can see how far out of hand this has gotten. But the response has been so positive, there seems to be no alternative but to forge ahead and continue to build the kind of organization that will honor our wounded warriors by its service, and be one with which you will be proud to associate.

Following this entry, I intend to update our readers about missions flown and related stories about our highly esteemed passengers and their families.

I invite our volunteer pilots, passengers, aircraft owners or other interested parties to submit entries or comments as well.

Walter L. Fricke
Veterans Airlift Command