Reporting John Lauritsen
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Being home for the holidays is the wish of a lot of military men and women. And one organization is making that wish come true.
Specialist Jack Zimmerman was injured in Afghanistan in March, but he arrived home Friday afternoon thanks to the Veterans Airlift Command. It’s a program that offers free flights to wounded veterans.
“These guys that volunteer their time and planes, it’s incredible,” said Zimmerman.
Corporal Mark Litynski also arrived home on Wednesday by way of the VAC.
“It’s definitely surpassed anything I would have imagined,” said Litynski.
The volunteer pilots that brought home Lytynski and Zimmerman are part of a program started by Minnesota veteran Walt Fricke. More than 2,000 volunteer pilots have brought home more than 4,500 veterans since 2006. It’s a hero’s flight home — free of charge.
“These people make it happen and it’s rewarding. They get to be connected with the wounded warriors directly and we meet a lot of great people as a result,” said Fricke.
What makes it even more special is that both Mark and Jack are amputees that would need to move their prosthetic through security. But instead of going through TSA at the airport, they go through VAC thanks to volunteers like Alec Covington, who picked up Mark and his wife Heather from Walter Reed in Washington and flew them to St. Paul.
“Being able to spend a couple hours on the plane with Mark and Heather — that’s my Christmas. Because you learn what Christmas is all about,” said Covington, who is the President and CEO of Nash Finch Company.
It’s the same for volunteer pilot Greg Cook of Carbondale, Illinois. This morning he picked up Zimmerman and his wife Megan in San Antonio, Texas, and flew them all the way to Mankato.
“It’s got to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my life. There isn’t one flight where I haven’t been moved,” said Cook, who is the President of Cook Portable Warehouse.
As much as both veterans have given to their country, their family’s simply look at this program as heroes helping heroes.
“The pilots tell us over and over again, you have made the ultimate sacrifice. We have all the thanks to give to you. We don’t feel like that at all. We feel they are our heroes,” said Megan. “It continues to blow our minds that there are people out there that are so generous, just to give their time and money to complete strangers,” said Mark’s wife Heather.
For more information on the Veterans Airlift Command, click here.