This guest post from Patrick Ziegert of Operation Freedom Bird originally appeared in the November 2014 edition of Southwest: The Magazine.
Friends in Arms: OFB takes vets to the Vietnam Wall and other war memorials.
Operation Freedom Bird(OFB) keeps its annual commitment to helping American combat veterans find healing.
In the 1980s, Pat Lynch, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was readjusting to civilian life in Phoenix. He had used his veterans benefits to obtain his commercial pilot’s license and begun a career in the airline industry that took him to cities across the country. Once, while in Washington, D.C., he visited the Vietnam Wall, our nation’s official memorial for the military conflict he’d survived. Right away, Pat saw the monument’s powerful potential for healing. He also realized his profession could provide a way to help fellow veterans benefit from the memorial. And with that, Operation Freedom Bird was born.
Since 1988, the organization has helped more than 1,100 Arizona combat veterans take a Healing Journey to their memorial in D.C. It’s a trip that changes lives. As a veteran who served in Iraq, I went on a Healing Journey in 2010, and since then, I’ve been able to live in the present instead of living in the past and re-experiencing the combat trauma that haunted me for many years. This inspired me enough to take a direct approach in helping the organization, and I’m now the president of Operation Freedom Bird.
Southwest Airlines is one of our most important partners. Each year, up to 50 veterans are able to make their Healing Journeys for Veterans Day because Southwest flies them to Washington, D.C., free of charge. Southwest also provides a special send-off at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) and a reception at the point of arrival in D.C.
It doesn’t stop there. When the veterans return home, one of the most powerful displays of gratitude is waiting: an enormous reception in a Southwest hangar where family members, supporters, and representatives from the airline welcome these warriors back home. It is a true heroes’ welcome and certainly drives home the idea that our families, including the Southwest Family, love the returning veterans and respect the sacrifices they each made to protect our freedoms and keep us safe. For more information, visit operationfreedombird.org.