Injured veterans often live far from the services they need to treat their injuries. Traveling on commercial airlines can be difficult for them. Veterans Airlift Command, a nonprofit organization, coordinates flights for veterans with pilots volunteering their time, plane, and expense. These flights take place all over the United States and here in Florida.

On June 18, 2021, local Keys pilot Jabe Luttrell donated his time and plane to complete two missions for Veterans Airlift Command. The first was for the army sergeant major. Jason Dodd, who served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He spent over 11 years in the infantry, two years as a Ranger instructor and three years as a combat diving supervisor. Jason has retired from medical care as a result of his combat injuries and suffers from TBI, PTSD and chronic back pain.

SSG Jason Dodd, left, and Jabe Luttrell depart Destin Airport. CONTRIBUTED.

Dodd’s mission involved a trip from Destin to Key Largo for a Wounded Warriors scuba dive at John Pennekamp State Park. He helped train a quadriplegic veteran and dived with him during the event. What was important to Dodds is that during a dive the quadriplegic feels more free and less restricted.

Because Key Largo does not have an airport, Luttrell and Jenna Diebel of Veterans Airlift Command coordinated with Erica Torres, the Ocean Reef Club Airport Manager, to use the Ocean’s private airport. Reef Club as a convenient destination to minimize Dodds overland travel. The alternatives would have been long trips from Key West or Homestead. While many of us make these long journeys, the journey is particularly uncomfortable if not painful for someone living with war wounds. This coordination also allowed the pilot of the return trip, Lance Boxer, to land at Ocean Reef Club.

A second mission brought in the triple amputee veteran Marine Sgt. Carlos Evans from his home in the Orlando area of ​​Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. In May 2010, Evans stepped on an IED, resulting in the loss of both his legs and his left arm. This tour was his fourth and last deployment. Evans spent two years at Walter Reed Medical Center and now lives in Florida with his wife and two daughters.

SSG Jason Dodd, left, prepares for a dive with a veteran quadriplegic at John Pennekamp State Park. CONTRIBUTED.

This second mission consisted of two flights, reducing the financial burden for each pilot. Maria Miles of Veterans Airlift Command coordinated the two-stage mission. The first flight stage, piloted by Luttrell, was from Orlando to Mount Pleasant; the second, from Mount Pleasant to Manassas, Virginia, was piloted by Chris DiPaola. Returning to Walter Reed will allow Evans to continue months of physical therapy to integrate new prosthetic legs with the remaining parts of his femurs.

These are just two of the many Veterans Airlift Command flights that take place every day. There are usually 60 missions to complete at any given time. Flights take place all over the United States and are performed entirely by volunteer General Aviation pilots. To date, more than 1,018 pilots have contributed to more than 6,130 flights. About a third of the pilots (345) have just started to complete missions, while a few have completed more than 100 missions.

The Veterans Airlift Command is a non-profit organization. More information on www.VeteransAirlift.org. Non-pilots can also help these missions by donating to Veterans Airlift Command and educating pilots who may not be familiar with Veterans Airlift Command and who might want to participate in these missions.

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