Local pilot helps grant soldier’s wish to see sons

EVERETT — An Army soldier is getting his birthday wish thanks to a local pilot.

Jeremy Sawyer lost both his legs just below the knee when an improvised explosive device exploded near him in Afghanistan.

He has been recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, but he wanted to spend his birthday with his two sons in Spanaway.

So a few different organizations got together to make his wish come true through Veteran Airlift Command, a national nonprofit group that provides free transportation for wounded veterans.

Sawyer and his mother are scheduled to arrive Friday.

Richard Newman, 57 and owner of Chinook Flight Simulation at Paine Field, is volunteering his time to fly to San Antonio on Thursday alongside copilot Tim Braly, of the Portland area. Braly also is donating his time and is paying for the fuel.

Seattle architecture firm Morgan Design Group, which has a contract with Newman, asked him to fly their plane for the trip.

Newman served 24 years in the Army and retired in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel.

This is the first time Newman is flying for Veteran Airlift Command. In the past he’s donated his time and skills to fly children in need of medical attention to Northwest hospitals for a different nonprofit, Angel Flight Inc.

Helping Sawyer is a way to give back to the people who made sacrifices for their country, Newman said.

“Commercial airlines cannot help wounded soldiers,” Newman said. “Airlines can’t accommodate passengers with multiple limb losses.”

Private and corporate airplanes provide several advantages over commercial flights for wounded soldiers. The airplanes have more room for medical equipment and the passengers don’t have to maneuver through long lines at security screenings.

Screenings are especially difficult if you are traveling with different prosthetics, said Walter Fricke, founder of Veteran Airlift Command.

“They could take three times the time to go through airport security,” Fricke said.

So far, the Minnesota-based nonprofit has organized 6,000 flights since its start, in 2006. So far this year, their volunteers have made about 1,500 flights, Fricke said.

Everything is run by donations. Pilots and owners donate the time and aircraft, Fricke said.

Flights can be set up in as fast as two hours if there is an emergency, but most are scheduled a few weeks in advance.

Flights help get vets to medical appointments, family emergencies or just visits home, Fricke said.

Washington state is not a common destination, averaging two trips every month, Fricke said.

Newman said he’s happy to help a fellow soldier.

Newman saw action in Vietnam and two tours in Bosnia. “I got beat up,” he said, but got out in better shape than soldiers such as Sawyer.

“These guys are in worse shape. They need my help and I am glad to offer it,” Newman said.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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