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Operation Flying Heroes Gives Wounded Warriors a Lift

Cody’s Cadre: From left, Paul Price, Ned Hubard, Doc Thomas, Vicki and Dick Cody, Ray Palumbo, Sherrie and Waldo Carmona, Adam Kisielewski, Frank Intini (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

Alexandria, VA – On a hot and humid August Saturday in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, retired Gen. Dick Cody commanded his cadre of veteran Army aviators on a mission they call Operation Flying Heroes.

Launched in 2010 by Cody, a career aviator and former vice chief of staff of the Army, and his wife, Vicki, an aviator and author, Operation Flying Heroes (OFH) was created in service to wounded warriors during the height of the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Funded privately by the Codys, the operation offers soldiers and other wounded service members a break from doctor visits and physical therapy with breathtaking flights over lush farmland in Gen. Cody’s OH-6A Cayuse helicopter.

Members of the cadre inspect the helicopter before lift-off. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

While speaking with some wounded soldiers at a gala in 2010, Gen. Cody learned they yearned to get back to feeling like soldiers again. He thought a flight in his helicopter might raise their spirits, so he and Vicki reached out to their families and caregivers at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir. Soon enough, they had a dozen soldiers coming to their hangar a few times a year for a special mission, getting a taste of the duty they missed.

Knowing he couldn’t do it alone, Cody marshaled a cadre of storied Army aviators to help lead and run this mission. Beginning with a longtime friend and former crewmate retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ned Hubard, Cody is surrounded by a dozen retired aviator volunteers, most of whom served together at some point over the years. The cadre hails from U.S. wars and conflicts dating from Vietnam to the present day.

Commander Cody in the cockpit, flying over the verdant Pennsylvania countryside. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

After a light breakfast, the mission begins in the hangar and is run with military precision. These experienced and dedicated aviators launch the operation with a briefing for the wounded and their families. After the air mission commander explains the flight plan, the ground mission commander reviews safety protocols, introduces the crew members, and finalizes the manifest.

Commander Cody opens the pre-flight briefing with his OH-6A Cayuse helicopter at the ready. (Photo: Ned Hubard
Waldo Carmona (left), joined by Ned Hubard (center) and Doc Thomas (right), briefs passengers on the Mission Overview. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

Once the soldiers and families have all taken their flights, it’s time for lunch. The tables are arranged to encourage group conversation and storytelling, where soldiers and aviators bond over their shared commitment to service, no matter how many years may be between them. Cody, known affectionately as Commander Cody, offers his bureaucracy-busting expertise to the wounded who might be having trouble getting proper care. This is the beauty of the military community: they serve together and look out for each other always.

Cody and the group in solemn pose as the national anthem is played. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)
All wounded warriors and family members who take part in the flights earn this special badge, along with a certificate and a photograph with Commander Cody. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)
Sharing stories and making connections over lunch has become the most meaningful takeaway of the operation. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

After lunch, the wounded and their families receive a certificate of completion and a patch for OFH. As Vicki Cody explains, “It is such an honor to be among the fine men and women who sacrifice so much for our country. And if we have given them something that day, they have surely given us something as well. For Dick and Ned and their fellow Army aviators, it has given them, in retirement, an opportunity to continue their passion for flying but with a new mission.”

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