When wounds, illnesses and injuries pull our service members from the battlefield, recovery can be a long and grueling journey. After passing through the 79th Medical Wing’s Aeromedical Staging Facility at Malcolm Grow Medical Clinics and Surgery Center on Joint Base Andrews, many wounded warriors get the care they need at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. But beyond quality medical care, patients and doctors agree that recovery improves with the presence of supportive loved ones. Since 2008, that’s where Luke’s Wings has stepped in, providing travel agency services and travel tickets for loved ones so that they can be on hand while their service member heals. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit also provides flights for the family and loved ones of special operators under the Special Operations Command Care Coalition, and for families of veterans in hospice care.
Luke’s Wings held its annual Hero Gala March 29 at the Ritz-Carlton Washington, D.C. The evening, hosted by Mistress of Ceremonies and Fox News anchor Shannon Bream, included a runway fashion show, a live auction, dinner, dancing, and music by MusiCorps Wounded Warrior Band, a group which formed among patients in the halls of WRMMC. Part fundraiser, part ceremony, the gala shone a spotlight on the people who serve our nation through fierce battles abroad and back home in treatment facilities, and on those who go on to work to support and inspire their fellow service members during the tough times that follow a severe injury or illness.
Luke’s Wings honored Lockheed Martin with a Partner Award, accepted by Will Johnson Jr., director of Federal Services in the Energy Solutions program area within Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems and Global Solutions-Civil organization.
“More than 24,000 veterans are Lockheed Martin employees, so it is very important to us to support the veteran community and our Soldiers. Luke’s Wings means a lot to me,” said Johnson, who was once stationed at Joint Base Andrews before he retired from the Air Force in 2008. “As an enlisted man and a Mustang, I really understand the financial struggle service members and their families face (when their loved one is far from home in a medical facility).”
Retired Navy Lt. (SEAL) Jason Redman received the 2014 Flying Families, Lifting Spirits Hero Award for the work he has done to inspire wounded warriors, connect them to valuable opportunities and support them as they work toward their new lives after a severe injury, an effort that began in his own hospital room at Walter Reed, where after a 2007 firefight he recovered from his wounds, posting a sign demanding positive attitudes instead of pity, strength and growth instead of grief. He went on to found Wounded Wear, which provides clothing modifications for wounded warriors, retreat weekends, job search assistance, suicide prevention programs and other efforts, guided by caseworkers who help them, and the families of the fallen, reach past a catastrophic event into a future filled with hope and pride.
“The message is, despite your injury, despite your loss, you’re still here,” Redman said.
Virginia Beach, Va.-based Wounded Wear works with combat veterans from World War II, to Korea, to Vietnam, to modern conflicts, to restore the “power, pride and purpose” of service members who are set to become what Redman sees as “the next Greatest Generation. America needs individuals who have overcome major adversity. Wounded warriors and the families of the fallen can be a shining example while they get themselves whole and healed.”
Presenting the Hero Award to Redman, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Juan M. Garcia III spoke of the “stunning advances in military medicine,” seen in recent conflicts. “We’re bringing home wounded personnel, alive, who in previous wars would have come home in flag-draped coffins. That’s where the challenge begins, to make sure that PTSD, TBI and IEDs don’t become the Agent Orange of this generation.”
On a somber note, Don and Janet Henscheid, parents of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Landon Leo Henscheid, a field medic, whose spinal cancer was discovered after he was injured on patrol in Afghanistan, spoke of the comfort and support they received from Luke’s Wings while caring for their son. Staff Sgt. Henscheid was treated for his severe injuries and cancer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and died in 2013. Luke’s Wings helped the Henscheid family, of Utah, be near Staff Sgt. Henscheid during his repeated hospitalizations.
“Our family bonds were strengthened,” said Janet Henscheid of the time she, her husband and children spent at Walter Reed for surgeries, chemotherapy, rehabilitation, and hospice care.
“The service they provided to our family went far beyond some flights,” said Don Henscheid. “This is a war, and Luke’s Wings entered this battle with us without knowing what the results would be. They were with us the entire time. Landon lost this particular battle, but he fought with courage.”
The Henscheids have gone on to work with organizations in their home state of Utah, to help veterans at risk of suicide.