By Jim Weiskopf
When Vincent Hardy received confirmation of his free round trip flight from Grand Rapids, Michigan to San Antonio, Texas, becoming a statistic was not on his mind. Vincent, step-father to Army Sergeant Matthew Webber, a patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, had only one thought in mind - bringing Matthew's grandmother to San Antonio for her first visit to her grievously injured grandson.
Sergeant Webber was burned over 60% of his body when the humvee in which he and three fellow soldiers from the Saginaw, Michigan-based 125th Infantry Regiment hit a landmine while on a patrol in Iraq in November 2005.
Sergeant Webber's mother has been at her son's bedside since his arrival at Brooke in November, but other relatives, to include his father, stepmother, stepfather, brother, aunt and uncle have used free airline tickets provided by Fisher House Foundation, to visit their wounded hero.
The statistic? When the nonprofit Fisher House Foundation provided Mr. Hardy his flight information he received the 5,000th ticket provided by the Foundation since the start of its Hero Miles program in January, 2004.
Vincent Hardy and more than a thousand other relatives or close friends of service men or women wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan benefit from a program begun by Congressman "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland, and administered by Fisher House Foundation. The program, "Hero Miles," uses donated frequent flyer miles to permit service members hospitalized due to their service in Iraq or Afghanistan to fly home from a military or VA medical center; or if they are unable to leave the hospital, to permit their families and close friends to come to the hospital to be by their bedside.
In the 26 months since the program began, the Foundation has now provided 5,000 airline tickets, or about 190 million frequent flyer miles, with an average cost savings of more than $1,300 per ticket, or total savings to military families of more than $6.5 million.
The participating airlines include: AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines, United, and US Airways (to include America West).
While almost all major U. S. carriers participate in the program, only five - Alaska, America West, Delta, Midwest, and Northwest - permit their frequent flyers to donate their miles to the program. Details are normally found on the airlines' Web sites, or at the "Hero Miles" section of www.fisherhouse.org.
Fisher House Foundation note: On April 28, 2006, we learned that Staff Sergeant Matthew Webber succumbed to his injuries and passed away at Brooke Army Medical Center. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family and friends.
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