Group Helps Military Families Take Flight

By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2008 - While on patrol in northern Iraq last year, Army Spc. Kevin Hardin of Jupiter, Fla., was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He suffered injuries to his hands and arms. As a result, some of his fingers were amputated. Shrapnel penetrated his skull, leaving inoperable injuries.

Twenty surgeries later, and while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, Hardin wrote to Luke's Wings, a Washington-based group that provides travel tickets and travel agency services for families of wounded servicemembers. He asked if the group could arrange for his mother and brothers to join his father at his side as he faced yet another operation.

"By purchasing travel agency services and travel tickets for loved ones, Luke's Wings provides an immediate and invaluable service to families of our men and women in the Armed Forces," Fletcher Gill, co-founder of Luke's Wings, said. "We receive about one request per month. I believe once the word gets out, we will see a flood of requests, and we will try to fill all of them."

Recognizing the immediate need for families to be with their loved ones after being wounded in combat, Luke's Wings provides them with the means to visit their servicemembers during hospitalization and rehabilitation at Walter Reed and at the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

Since its inception in December, Luke's Wings has purchased eight tickets and has helped three families travel to the Washington area to visit servicemembers.

Luke's Wings has raised nearly $30,000 in 10 months, mostly through fundraisers and private and corporate donations. A recent fundraiser, a 1940s-style cocktail party at a local club, attracted some 200 guests who donned period attire and military uniforms to dance the night away.

"We not only raised enough money to pay for our next family," Gill said, "but had enough left over to finance a minimum of two more families."

The idea to create Luke's Wings came when co-founder Sarah Wingfield, then a Washington Redskins football team ambassador, visited Walter Reed to sign autographs and entertain veterans receiving treatment. There, she met a soldier she refers to as Luke, a triple amputee struggling to accept what had happened to him.

>From talking to him and seeing his need to have his family around for support, she met with Gill, her long-time friend, to create Luke's Wings. Families such as the Hardin's are glad such an organization exists.

"We are so very thankful our son is alive," Terry Hardin said. "We have Luke's Wings to thank for making it possible for us to visit with him this year for yet another surgery. They will never be forgotten for what they have done for us." Her son is still recovering at Walter Reed.

Luke's Wings is included on the America Supports You Web site. America Supports You is a Defense Department program that communicates citizen support to the men and women serving in the nation's armed forces and their families.

*Related Sites:*
Luke's Wings  [ ]
Group Helps Military Families Take Flight  [ ]