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