Much of a pilot’s life is spent sitting around an airport waiting for passengers, weather, or, if things are really bad, a maintenance event to be repaired. Today I got to sit around the Millionaire FBO at the San Antonio International Airport (KSAT), and got to meet some special guys. One had a neat story and the other was creating a neat story.
As I sat on a couch checking e-mail, a guy wheeled himself into the FBO in a wheelchair with his left leg sticking straight out with lots of pins and needles holding the leg in an obviously uncomfortable manner. Not to be outdone, his right leg had portions of the lower part amputated and a nice prothetic device attached. Clearly, this guy had been through some sort of serious trauma.
I was brash enough to introduce myself and nosy enough to ask what had happened. It turns out that the guy in the wheelchair is a soldier who suffered through an IED explosion in Afghanistan. I connected the dots as I remembered that Ft. Sam Houston and Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) are in San Antonio. BAMC is the medical center that treats many of our wounded warriors.
Here’s the story…wounded in the Fall of 2011, this soldier has been in and out of BAMC during his medical treatments while his wife and kids were back at home in the midwest. He wanted to go home for a while, and had no really good way to do it since the logistics of using public transportation severely limited his options. An organization named Veteran Airlift Command was started which helps wounded soldiers locate aircraft owners who have a heart for serving. Enter into the story a Beechcraft Bonanza owner. The Bonanza owner was donating his time, finances, and airplane expenses to help the soldier get home.
I helped the soldier get onboard the airplane (which he did remarkably well considering the looks of his legs), and then they took off northeast bound. Both of the guys in this story were friendly and both were going to have a really good flight. I am sure the conversation in the airplane was really good as they settled into the cruise portion of the flight and got to know and appreciate what each did for each other.
It was neat to see the soldier for he had a SUPER attitude. He was pushing to get healed so he could try to remain in uniform and pursue a military career. Despite his obvious physical challenges, he was looking forward and intentionally preparing for his future with a smile on his face. It is hard to look at this guy and not feel thankful for my own mobility; and made me a LOT more thankful for guys who go through this kind of ordeal and have a bright outlook on the future.
The pilot was amazingly quiet. He seemed to know that the attention should be placed upon the soldier, and not upon his own heroics for the day. While the soldier chatted about his situation, the pilot just listened and affirmed. However, I think the pilot was a hero too. He had a heart of compassion for soldiers and was making a really good trade for his money and time. I’m betting that 10 years from now the pilot will still remember this day fondly, and so will the soldier. The cool part is that I will too.