View Full Version : Winging wounded warriors home

11-04-06, 05:35 AM
Winging wounded warriors home
November 04,2006

While still recovering from the bomb blast that threw Cpl. Christopher Brink out of an armored humvee in Iraq, the Marine found himself trying to fly to Camp Lejeune from his home in Florida.

It took him 13 hours, with three layovers in airports where he was unable to carry his own bags and often needed a wheelchair to get from gate to gate.

"It just took me forever," he said. "It was horrible."

So when the 21-year-old Brink booked another flight home to Melbourne, Fla., he wasn't necessarily thrilled about it. When he tried to alter his flight plans - and was told he would have to pay another $400 - he had enough.

Brink's father had another idea. While Brink was recovering from his wounds in Bethesda, Md., he had heard about a group called Veterans Airlift Command, a non-profit group of volunteer pilots who fly wounded service members to and from hospitals.

Brink gave them a call.

On Friday, Brink took off from Ellis Airport on a free flight home. Better yet, it would only take about 3 hours.

"It worked out a lot better for me," said Brink, who arrived at the airport on crouches. "I couldn't believe it. There's been tons of guys who ask me if I need help. This is above and beyond."

Brink's life changed in June. It was his first deployment to Iraq, and he was riding down an Anbar province road in the gun turret of a humvee.

It was a routine patrol until the armored vehicle rolled over a pressure-plate roadside bomb. The blast blew the doors off, killed the vehicle's team leader and an interpreter and tossed Brink out.

His lower body was badly wounded with multiple fractures. His arm was broken and he had a concussion. Brink was medevaced back to Fallujah and through a number of hospitals in Iraq and Europe before he made it back to the U.S.

Brink spent two months in the hospital, and it wasn't until he could go out without a wheelchair that he began to feel like himself again.

"I hated the hospital," he said. "But seeing all the guys much worse than me, I was just happy to be here. I'm just lucky to be alive and to have all my limbs."

On Friday, Brink was on his way to Florida to transfer into a reserve unit so he can receive medical care closer to home. He's still with his mother unit, the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, and he hopes to return in three to seven months when his wounds heal.

Veteran's Airlift is a Minnesota-based group that will provide free flights for wounded warriors, veterans and their families for medical treatments or other "compassionate purposes." The group was founded by Walt Fricke, a former Army helicopter pilot who was shot down and wounded in Vietnam in 1968.

"I know what it's like to be wounded in a hospital 700 miles from home," he said.

He founded the group earlier this year, originally thinking it would be a "little shuttle service." But he decided to make it a national program and began recruiting pilots across the country. He now has 30 pilots and 25 airplanes, with a goal of having 1,000 planes across the country by the end of 2007.

Brink's trip home is the group's inaugural flight. Another flight, from Yuma, Ariz. to Seattle was scheduled for later that day. Frinke said the Veterans Airlift will also serve as the "air force" for USA Cares, a global service group that assists service members and their families.

Billy and Christopher Ball, pilots from Jacksonville, Fla., who flew to Ellis to pick Brink up, said flying him home is the least they can do.

"We are delighted to do it," said Christopher Ball. "It doesn't matter what you think about the war; they are heroes. They deserve to be supported without question.

"It's payback for their service, Frinke said.

"Having been through the Vietnam thing, our generation paid a tremendous price of lack of honor and respect," he said. "But that was well worth it if it means this next generation will have it better."

Frinke said they are looking for interested pilots in the Camp Lejeune area to help serve the wounded coming into the base and the "wounded warriors" barracks.

Those interested in finding out more about Veteran's Airlift Command can log on to www.veteransairlift.com. Pilots interested in volunteering can find applications online, and wounded service members in need of a flight can make a travel request by going online or calling (88 784-8911.