As 2009 comes to an end, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the year and thank those who have made this effort/enterprise a success.

Looking back, I believe this was the year (our third full year in existence) that we became “established”. We reached a milestone of 1400 volunteer pilots and aircraft owners on our volunteer roles and increased our flights by 50% over the previous year (again). We have now transported over 1800 passengers well over one million miles since beginning in Nov 06. We have become known within the military medical community as a “quietly competent” resource which executes as promised. This is only possible because of our network of willing patriot volunteers who fly the missions, and the financial supporters who keep our flight coordination center funded and able to respond pretty much 24/7.

It is amazing to me that we can cover the mission requests, sometimes with as little as a couple of hours notice and provide such first rate service to our wounded warriors and their families. What a blessing to be associated with the caliber of volunteers that the mission attracts. Volunteers like Phil Tholen from Tulsa, who accepted two missions over the holidays to get two seriously wounded soldiers (one airman and his family and one single soldier… a double amputee) home from San Antonio to Chicago and Dayton respectively, in his Hawker Premier Jet. Phil took it upon himself to call an additional passenger (one he’d flown to Philadelphia previously) to see if he needed a lift as well. Turns out he did need a lift back to San Antonio, so Phil added that to his task for the return leg… thus completing his 31st mission for the VAC since he joined us just over two years ago.

If I had the time I would write a story about every mission we complete. It would be doable if my allergies didn’t kick in every time I hear about what our volunteers do and the difference that they make in the lives of our heroes. Or….even as common…the difference that these heroes make in the lives of our volunteers!

Without the financial support of great Americans like those named on our donor recognition page, this would not work.. THANKS to all those named on our wall for your participation. Patriots all!

We were shocked by a Congressman I met while in DC visiting Walter Reed a couple of Months ago. He heard a short pitch from me and seemed impressed when I described our mission. Six weeks later I got a call from Congressman Rooney’s office (district 6 in FL) advising me that he was planning a motorcycle ride around lake Okeechobee to raise awareness and funding for the VAC. He actually did it on Dec 13. Buck Williams and Paul Donahue, two of our volunteers flew one of our former passengers in for the event…Buck flew him down from Orlando and Paul flew him over the motorcycle route in his helicopter. A great day..captured on this newsmax video. Our story is being told in unique ways and we are gaining momentum. Thank you congressman Rooney and future Congressman Allan West for your leadership.

We are looking forward to expanding our efforts to serve our military family and especially our wounded warriors in 2010. Thanks for your part in the mission. This is important stuff!

Pictured: Austin Spencer, SSG Bradley Gruetzner, and VAC Pilot Scott Zodin

It was a great honor flying a Purple Heart recipient from Palestine, TX to Camp Hope, Farmington, MO. Camp Hope is formally known as Chris Neal Farm, in memory of Chris Neal who died fighting for his country in Iraq several years ago (

Our hero/passenger was severely wounded in Iraq. While on patrol, the Humvee he and his comrades were traveling in struck an improvised explosive device (IED). Three soldiers perished, two survived.

This soldier will tell you that he was just doing his job. That he is nothing special. I beg to differ. This young man has a fine disposition, and positive attitude. He answered all questions with a yes sir, and no sir. He did not complain about the pain he obviously felt cramped in the back seat of the plane or the turbulence we hit coming into Farmington. In general, he was a fine example of what is “good” about the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

It is a useful when things are not going our way to remember the great sacrifice these soldiers are making. At least in my case, problems seem petty and insignificant compared to those of a wounded hero.

Phil's San Luis Obispo Trip Report

All went well - no, GREAT - on the trip out to SBP. Tim is the most gregarious, up-beat person you can imagine. Also very bright, and empathetic. Gabe is a little more timid (or seemed so in contrast to Tim) but also a really sweet young man. What was really interesting was the metamorphosis that occurred during our 10 hours together.....

I met Tim and Gabe at Landmark Aviation (FBO) at San Antonio. They were in the FBO terminal building when I landed, and it was obvious which of the passengers in the terminal were my pax; Tim stomping around in shorts and one metal leg, and Gabe in a wheelchair. We went thru introductions and some light banter as I was re-fueled. We then loaded and boarded my PC12. Both soldiers were impressed with the style in which they were going to travel. I told them it was the least we could do for them given what they had done for us. It was odd, but the looks they gave me made me think this was the first time they had heard that remark.

We stopped in SDL for fuel/pee/stretch/whatever on the way out (they had hinted about bladder endurance). When they disembarked at the FBO, there seemed to all of a sudden be a more jovial camaraderie going on. 2 hours later we arrived at SBP and were greeted by the host organization, It was only then that I found out both Tim and Gabe were returning surfers, having also participated last year, and were greeted by "old friends" who swept them off to the hotel - with wide grins on both their faces. But what happened later was even better.....

At 6:00 p.m. we were all meeting at the hotel lobby to ride over to a restaurant where a "meet and greet" would take place (with food and beers). When it got to be about 6:15, Tim and I were in a discussion with Dana Cummings (founder/host with when in comes Gabe - not in a wheelchair, not on crutches, not even his cane! Just walking in, grinning and basking in the glow of all his buddies (old and new). It was then that it finally hit me - what you've been "selling" all these years - the powerful recuperative effect of having your friends and extended family nearby seriously out-powers the best medical facilities around!!! Gabe did not experience any miracle; he was able to move around into and out of my plane on his own. But it was not until he was surrounded by that emotional support that he chose to cast off the crutches (figuratively and literally) and step-out on his own. And the pride and compassion the swelled in Tim as we watched was evident. What a moment......

They don't need us - but we sure can help, and it is most rewarding to do so.

Keep VAC in there for them - and for us!


VAC Volunteer Kelly Bruun's Mission Report

SSgt Jessie Slotte was severely wounded when he was ambushed in 2007 while on dismounted patrol in Iraq. Chasing an insurgent he was ambushed when a 155mm artillery shell improvised into an explosive device was detonated under him. The grenades he was carrying detonated as well. Although not expected he has made amazing progress toward substantial recovery.
It was my honor and privilege to transport this wounded soldier from Fort Lewis to receive a special award and to reunite with his fellow warriors and the staff at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. It truly was a great experience that I will always remember.

SSgt Jessie Slotte and his wife Maria when we landed in Colorado for fuel

He we are “friends already” upon arrival in San Antonio

Jessie reuniting with staff at Brooke Army Medical Center where he endured 49 surgeries

I was welcomed into his group of friends. My hero finally had some fun in his life.
In just three days I have become lifelong friends with a great American hero and his wonderful and courageous wife Maria. I met and interacted with 16 of his fellow wounded warriors as well, and meeting those young soldiers has given me a new hope for the future for our Country.

-Kelly Bruun

Veterans Airlift Flies Wounded Warriors to Compete in Boston Marathon

I recently had the opportunity to help organize one of the most inspiring Veterans Airlift Command missions that I’ve had the privilege of taking part in.
On Saturday, April 18th, two Falcon jets flew down to Washington’s Dulles airport to transfer six double and single amputees, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to Boston to compete in the Boston Marathon as members of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans. The two flight crews, Signature Flight Support in Dulles and Boston, MWAA and Massport firefighters went above and beyond to support these great athletes and their family members.

In an effort to boost support for these soldiers, the Veterans Airlift Command, and for the business and general aviation community whose donations make VAC flights possible, we arranged to have several members of the media greet us upon arrival in Boston. The local Fox News and ABC channels, as well as the Boston Herald and Boston Globe were on hand to record the arrival and the inspiring story of the athletes. The cameras were even rolling as the jet pulled up to the Signature terminal with the American flag waving out of the Captain’s window.

Like many of VAC’s passengers, this was the first time on private airplanes for most of the athletes. Signature Flight Support rolled out the red carpet (literally) and the flight crews went out of their way to make the trip comfortable and fun. Both airplanes and their crews stayed in Boston the entire weekend and flew the athletes back to Washington.

…one more opportunity to show just a fraction of our gratitude for the sacrifice these soldiers have made. It was an honor for all of us involved.

Katie Pribyl
Director, Communications
General Aviation Manufacturers Association

Once in a Lifetime VAC Mission

VAC Pilot Bill Campbell and Lt. General (Ret) Hal Moore

We pilots, who have flown VAC missions, have felt our heart strings tugged upon by the soldiers and families we have encountered. Stoic hearts, bravery and courtesy have been the hallmark of all of those I have transported.

I recently had a once in a lifetime honor of transporting a man whom exemplifies Duty, Honor, Country over a long service life. Lt. General (Ret) Hal Moore. You may know him as the man represented by Mel Gibson in the movie “We were Soldiers” he authored the book “We were Soldiers once and young” . The book chronicles the battle of the La Drang Valley which was also known as the Valley of Death. In reality Lt. General Moore, then a Lt. Col, took 395 soldiers of the US 7th Cavalry up against 4000 well armed, well trained North Vietnamese regulars…and won!

This VAC mission was requested through Walt Fricke by the Commander of the 7th Cavalry in Ft. Stewart Georgia. Well into his late 80’s General Moore simply deserved better than commercial air carriers could offer. He was to be the Guest of Honor at the 2009 Cavalry Ball.

I picked up General Moore near his home and was amazed that this diminutive man had crystal blue eyes that literally sparkled in the morning sun under his black Stetson hat adorned with gold aiguillette and three silver stars. Even after all the years since my own service, it made me almost snap to attention

The General was sprightly and moments after takeoff we chased my co-pilot into the back of the plane and the general took control in the right seat of my 421. He admitted many years had passed since his flying days. Believe it or not he became a rotary wing pilot after he became a general. Now too short to see over the glare shield he flew by instruments. He flew the plane all the way to the approach in Ft. Stewart. Fortunately he allowed me to do the landing. I must say he flew the plane like he was born to it.

Once on the ground Jill Eichner, my copilot, and I were given the run of Ft. Stewart. We had been invited to attend the Cavalry ball that evening and were virtually the only civilians there.

We visited the 3rd Division Museum and saw the wall of hero’s, all of whom had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. That was humbling. From there we went outside on a beautiful day and walked the Warriors walk. It is a brick lined sidewalk and every 20 ft is a tree, rimmed by brick, encasing a small memorial to a members of the 3rd Division who fell during the Iran, Afghanistan conflicts. This walk surrounds the parade ground and one is most struck by its simple beauty and that it is much too long and growing.

The general spoke to an officer leadership group in the afternoon and the young officers, many the age of the generals grandchildren, were mesmerized during the talk and effusive in their applause and praise.

In the evening we attended the ball. It was a most memorable experience. The full mess dress of the officers and enlisted men of the 3rd Division and 7th Cav is stunning. It isn’t often you see 400 men in black Stetsons, blue waistcoats with gold lapels and full dress medals. Additionally, those hardened by battle, wear spurs even in their best military attire.

The soldiers we met reinforce this old airman’s belief in the youth of this country. Words cannot describe the feeling in the room. One of the most poignant events is the series of toasts. They go something like this…

The toast is delivered by a single officer the response by the 400 in attendance.

Toast: Ladies and Gentlemen I propose a toast to the United States of America.
Response: To the United States of America

Toast: Ladies and Gentlemen I propose a toast to the United States Army
Response: The Army

Toast: Ladies and Gentlemen I propose a toast to the 3rd Division
Response: Rock of the Marne

Toast: Ladies and Gentlemen I propose a toast to the 7th Cavalry Regiment
Response: GarryOwen

Toast: Ladies and Gentlemen I propose a toast to our Fallen Comrades
Response: (Raised glasses but not a sound in the room)

The meal was excellent, the generals speech endearing and the contact with the soldiers stirring.

On the trip home that evening, after a 14 hour day, the Old General slept. The sounds of battles fought, the thoughts of friends and soldiers lost, momentarily replaced by the adulation of the next generation of our finest and the drone of a couple of old piston engines in his ears.

We have long been and remain in the best of hands with our military. We can never repay the debt we owe our warriors who give everything. I extend my deepest gratitude to all of you who fly for the VAC for what you do to try.

Best regards
-Bill Campbell