U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — “It was an amazing experience.”
This was how Eddie Roberts described his orientation flight May 8 at the Air Force Academy. Roberts was one of eight wounded warrior veterans who soared over the Front Range.
The 94th Flying Training Squadron, led by Lt. Cols. Glendon Whelan and Matthew Humphrey, facilitated the orientation flight for the veterans. They partnered with the Wounded Warrior Program and Soaring Eagle Foundation, a nonprofit that provides veterans training necessary to obtain glider certification.
“We want to give back,” Whelan said. “These are folks who went above and beyond giving their service to this country, and it’s the least we can do.”
Humphrey concurred and said, “It’s a true honor for us to host them.”
Prior to the flight, the eight veterans received an orientation that included safety precautions. They also toured the hangar that housed the squadron’s fleet of gliders.
Roberts, a 10-year veteran, said he had mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness prior to flying.
“It allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and do something I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do,” he said. “I learned something new.”
During the flight, the veterans received an opportunity to take in views they wouldn’t normally get to see—views of the Front Range, Pikes Peak, reservoirs, Garden of the Gods and the Academy at 12,500 feet.
“We want to share our passion for flying with them,” Whelan said. “Hopefully through the Soaring Eagle Foundation, they will pursue additional flights on gliders at Meadow Lake and opportunities to fly solo.”
Usually, the training squadron performs thousands of sorties every year to give cadets a taste of soaring and provide glider training.
“Our mission here is to expose, motivate and challenge cadets. This event is almost a reverse for us,” Humphrey said. “(These veterans) are the ones who are motivating and challenging us.”
Roberts said the event highlighted the welcoming atmosphere of the military and how it always cared for its members, both in and out of service.
“The sight itself and the art of flying really touches the hearts,” he said.