November 10, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
Cessna Aircraft Co., joining in the work of the nonprofit Veterans Airlift Command (VAC), announced Nov. 10 that a special company jet would fly two wounded veterans from San Antonio, Texas, to VAC's annual fundraiser in Pinehurst, N.C., where the soldiers would be honored on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
Cessna designated a Citation Mustang it named the American Patriot to fly the mission and others for VAC, an organization that provides free medical and compassionate transportation for wounded veterans and their families.
The Nov. 10 flight was to transport veterans Bobby Henline, a former U.S. Army staff sergeant, who was injured in an improvised explosive device attack in Iraq on April 7, 2007, and Matthew Miles, an Army sergeant first class who was injured in an IED attack Oct. 13, 2007, in Zormat, Afghanistan. Miles lost his left leg and suffered severe lacerations and hand injuries in that attack.
Henline is now a motivational speaker and stand-up comic. Miles now lives in San Antonio with his wife Maria, who is a VAC mission coordinator, and their three sons, said the announcement.
VAC, since its beginnings in 2006, has transported its passengers through a growing national network of aircraft owners and pilots, with its priority mission of helping veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). Cessna President and CEO Scott Ernest urged aircraft owners to “join up and fly with us” on VAC missions, “so no travel need goes unmet. “Our men and women in uniform have given our country a tremendous service, and many have paid a heavy price. Our commitment of the American Patriot to support the Veterans Airlift Command allows us to demonstrate our gratitude and provides Cessna with a way to give back to our wounded warriors,” he said in a company news release.
Walt Fricke, a former military helicopter pilot who is VAC's founder and air boss, welcomed Cessna's gesture of “providing our wounded warriors with this crucial service.”
The American Patriot aircraft will be a readily recognizable symbol of the mission it serves, featuring a paint scheme that salutes service members with a depiction of a Patriot Defender holding a shield featuring the four branches of the Armed Forces. A large American flag unfurls down the side of the aircraft, which made its public debut at the National Business Aviation Association annual convention Oct. 10 in Atlanta, Ga.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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