MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- With continuing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan involving thousands of American troops, volunteers from many aid organizations stand ready to assist servicemembers and the families of troops wounded or killed in action there.
Two groups providing aid are Angel Fight and Operation Hero Miles. These non-profit groups stand ready to specifically help with transportation needs not covered by the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“What we are both doing is helping servicemembers with their needs,” said Heather Molino, a U.S. congressional spokesperson involved with Operation Hero Miles.
Operation Hero Miles and Angel Flight refer to each other in order to help a servicemember and/or their families with their particular travel needs the best way possible, according to Molino.
Angel Flight is an organization consisting of several nationwide grassroots groups under the same name originally dedicated to providing transportation to distant medical facilities for “life-sustaining” medical treatment. The transportation, done by volunteer pilots flying their private aircraft, is provided totally free of charge to the patient and/or family members.
“We have over one thousand volunteer pilots for the mid-Atlantic region, and six thousand nationwide,” said Steve Patterson, the director of the mid-Atlantic region for Angel Flight. “Last year we flew over thirty-seven thousand people for various needs ranging from intermediate health care needs to [child] adoptions.”
With the war on terror continuing and military casualties coming in from the ongoing conflicts, Angel Flight began providing free flights to wounded servicemembers needing to travel from their permanent duty stations in the United States to their hometowns.
After a public response to Congress, the government began paying for wounded servicemembers’ travel cost. Angel Flight is now refocusing their efforts one way by providing transportation to the relatives of servicemembers wounded or killed through “compassion flights.” These flights give family members a free flight to the medical facility where the servicemember is located.
“We can provide transportation for family members of military personnel through compassion flights,” said Patterson. “With a request submitted five working days before the needed flight, we will fly family members on these flights to their military relatives receiving treatment at a distant medical facility or refer them to an aid organization with available frequent flyer miles.”
Operation Hero Miles works cooperatively with Angel Flight in providing free transportation. Started by Maryland Congressman C. A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, Operation Hero Miles began by providing flights for service members coming back to the United States for temporary leave from their duties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The group provided frequent flyer travel miles from mileage donated by individual travelers and various companies.
“It was mostly American frequent flyers who donated to the program,” said Molino, press secretary and spokesperson for Ruppersberger. “The congressman [Ruppersberger] went out to talk on radio shows, television interviews and with the power of the Internet, the word got out.”
After DoD began paying for leave flights, the organization is aiming to provide flights for servicemembers needing to fly home on emergency leave from their permanent duty stations.
“The aid package passed last fall provided funds for leave flights for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Molino. “Yet, the volunteer organizations will do everything they can to get relatives of wounded or killed servicemembers the needed tickets.”
With thousands of pilots volunteering to fly for Angel Flight and 540 million frequent flyer travel miles donated to Operation Hero Miles, both organizations are eager get the word out to servicemembers and their families about the resources available to them. The organizations, their members and those who have donated also want to just show their appreciation for those on the frontlines.
“These efforts prove Americans are truly patriotic, and they want to help our men and women in uniform,” said Molino of the everyday people who have committed their time and efforts to the servicemembers’ cause. “This gave them a tangible way of doing that.”
For more information on assistance for servicemembers and their families from Angel Flight and Operation Hero Miles visit www.angelflightamerica.org and www.heromiles.org