Day by Day
Veterans can fly for free through VAC
By LIZ THOMPSON
Nov 5, 2018
This Week Community News
Veterans Airlift Command provides free air transportation to post-9/11 combat wounded and their families for medical and compassionate purposes through a network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots.
Tim Fyda, 61, of Columbus is president and CEO of Fyda Freightliner.
He attended the Air Force Academy and received his pilot wings in the U.S. Air Force. He served for eight years as a pilot.
“In 2007, I saw a Newsweek magazine cover with a wounded female Army veteran,” Fyda said. “She happened to be an amputee. I said to my wife, ‘I wish we could do something to help our wounded warriors as they return from Afghanistan and Iraq.’
“The next day I opened Transport Topics — a truck transportation industry publication — and saw an article about Veterans Airlift Command. I went to the VAC website and saw that two guys I had served with in the Air Force were advisory board members. I called one of them and have been hooked ever since. I flew my first mission soon after and became a board member, as well.”
Fyda said he wants wounded warriors to know they have the love and support of their country. He wants to ease the burden on veterans and their families as they navigate the complex world of rehabilitation.
“As much as I know our mission helps our veterans, I assure you it helps me more than them,” he said. “I have met the most inspiring young Americans you can imagine. I ask many of them to fly up front with me if they are able to get to the seat.
“As one young Marine sat next to me on a long flight, he said he would do it all again, knowing the consequences, just in order to support his brothers in arms. That is dedication.
“Another young Army lieutenant platoon leader was rehabbing in St. Paul after almost losing his life in combat. His first order of business as soon as he could travel was to fly to Massachusetts to meet and comfort the families of two of his fallen soldiers.
“I learned more about leadership that day from that young lieutenant than in the 12 years I had served.”
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew H., 30, along with his wife, Heather, and 10-month-old son, Noah, once were Fyda’s passengers. He flew them from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to his home.
A Green Beret, Matthew — whose last name was withheld by Army officials due to the sensitivity of his job — has served in multiple deployments to North Africa and Afghanistan.
“We train, advise and assist foreign militaries in unconventional warfare,” Matthew said.
He said his Special Forces team was tasked with clearing a city of enemy combatants in Afghanistan. On the morning of Jan. 24 his team came under enemy fire.
“During the exchange, I was struck with AK rounds to my right elbow, right ankle and left thigh. I was also struck by an IED shortly thereafter,” he said.
“I have extensive soft-tissue damage to my left thigh and lost my right leg below the knee. I have spent eight months in rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical (Center) to learn how to walk again.”
Matthew said he has used the VAC service several times.
“Tim has flown me just one time. He brought me home to see my family,” he said. “I have used the service two other times for similar reasons.”
Due to the swelling in his right leg, he is unable to bend his leg to or near a 90-degree angle.
“I could have never fit my leg and new prosthetic in the small sections of commercial airplanes … traveling through an airport with a wheelchair, 10-month-old and luggage would be impossible.
“Without the VAC, I would have not been able to return home.”
Matthew will return to the Special Forces community once he is healed completely.
“We always need more volunteer pilots at VAC. They can contact us through our website,” Fyda said. “We have a very lean organization and staff.”