Angel Flight West is honored to provide flights to help service members reach veteran transition assistance programs. Michael’s story is one that resonates as we strive to connect more passengers with flights to needed medical treatment and support programs throughout the Western United States.
Coming home from the Iraq War, Army veteran Michael struggled to find his place back in society. “You’re going 120 miles an hour while serving, and then you’re at zero” he said. “It’s a sudden stop. All I’ve done is the military.”
Michael is no stranger to the hardship that many American veterans face after returning home from overseas missions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an average of 200,000 men and women leave U.S. military service and return to life as civilians annually. Reflecting on his return home, Michael says, “There was no coming home. My home was the military.”
But Michael knew he was a survivor. After numerous attempts to seek help, he heard about the mission of the White Heart Foundation (WHF), an organization dedicated to improving the mental and physical health of post-9/11 veterans through eco-therapy and specialized care.
Shortly after sending in a letter to WHF, he got a response from Corporal Jed Morgan, the foundation’s camp creator and director. As a war veteran injured in combat himself, Cpl. Jed knew, lived, and felt Michael’s experience. It wasn’t long before Michael was on a plane, headed for a seven-day retreat called the Guardian Project.
Launched in 2016, the Guardian Project is an adventure therapy and mental health program for post-9/11 veterans. When asked about the experience, Michael says, “Being around soldiers, people who have been where I’ve been, was like I had a sense of belonging again. I put my uniform on for the first time in 11 years. I felt proud to wear it.”
The journey to the program was no easy undertaking. His commercial flight left Florida at 4:30 in the morning, stopping in Illinois, Oklahoma, and, finally, in Colorado. Once in Denver, Michael connected with Angel Flight West Command Pilot Jay Hirsh, who flew him to his long-awaited destination: Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Angel Flight West provides flights for dozens of service members each year to help them reach veteran services offered by WHF. “Make no mistake. We look for our heroes every day,” says Michael, “and on that day, I was flying with my hero. He was so enthusiastic, caring and professional.”
The ability to take part in this program has had a lasting impact on Michael’s well-being. “I feel a lot better,” he says. “I have more brothers and sisters. I have more tools now when I’m having a rough day.”
In addition to his new brothers and sisters, Michael also has a new loyal companion – a service dog named Eva. They’ve been together for almost a year and haven’t looked back. “She’s been amazing for me,” says Michael.
While speaking of his experience flying with Angel Flight West, Michael says, “The name Angel Flight… it was truly an angel that helped me.”
We thank you for your service, Michael. We’re grateful to help veterans reach the services they need through the gift of flight. Learn more about requesting a flight.
Article by Jessica Hayes