Luke’s Wings purchases airline tickets for the families of service members who are recovering from war injuries.
By Jane Hess Collins
Army Master Sergeant (MSG) Todd Landen didn’t like asking for help. He had served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and twice in Iraq, survived six IED blasts, lost a rib, and lives with constant, painful nerve damage and short-term memory loss. He was, most definitely, a survivor.
Landen, his wife Aprel and their three-year-old daughter Brianna had lived at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Mologne House for the past year. Then, one Friday afternoon in November of 2009, Landen was notified that he would undergo surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore the following Monday.
Great news, but it came with a price. Aprel needed to be with him for his three days of recovery in Johns Hopkins’ intensive care unit, meaning they had to find child care for Brianna. Bringing her to Johns Hopkins was not an option. The ICU didn’t allow children on the floor, and the H1N1 flu outbreak made the hospital staff extra-cautious. The Army couldn’t help Landen with his child care needs, and his family was unavailable. Their only option was to fly Aprel’s mother in from California, and with three days’ notice, the airfare cost was out of reach.
Landen turned to the Walter Reed Soldier Family Assistance Center, where he was referred to Luke’s Wings. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Landen completed the online application, requesting a roundtrip ticket from Fresno to Washington, DC and hit “send,” expecting his request to dissolve into cyberspace.
He was stunned a few minutes later when Fletcher Gill, co-founder of Luke’s Wings along with Sarah Wingfield, called to tell him the request was approved and the tickets were on the way to his mother-in-law.
Luke’s Wings supports service members who have been wounded in battle by purchasing airplane tickets for hospitalized wounded warriors and their families. Decisions are made quickly, without decision charts, endless meetings or mind-numbing power point presentations.
Even today, Landen calls Luke’s Wings’ support unparalleled. “I didn’t think there were people out there who would do things like that,” Landen said, recalling the shock he felt when Gill approved the request so quickly. “I never expected anyone to pick up my slack. I didn’t know there were people or organizations who were giving their own money to help in situations like that.”
Luke’s Wings was founded in January, 2008, after Wingfield, a Redskins cheerleader, visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center the previous spring as part of the Redskins outreach program, and befriended a desolate veteran named Luke.
Luke’s Wings has helped Landen several times. They flew his two elder daughters down to Walter Reed last spring to surprise him on his birthday while he was hospitalized for yet another surgery, and helped him with a hotel bill when Landen and his family were stranded in a blizzard earlier this year.
Luke’s Wings has purchased airline tickets for nearly 300 military families in crisis. Their next fundraiser, its second annual Casino Royale Night, will be Thursday, June 2 at Leopold’s Lounge. All James Bond and Bond girls can get more information and buy tickets here.
Landen, for his part, is indebted to Luke’s Wings and had conducted his own fundraisers for them so they may continue to support other military families in need. He believes having family nearby triples the injured service member’s recovery rate.
“I will be indebted to Luke’s Wings for the rest of my life,” Landen said. “They came through at a time for us when we didn’t know what to do.”
Indeed, Landen hopes to advocate for military patients’ rights when he retires from the Army.
Until then, he’s proud to serve.