Aviators "team up" to help veterans transition

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Vernon L. Fowler Jr.
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
A local member from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., has been assigned a mentor from the Veterans Airlift Command and its "Team-Up" program.

A new program started by VAC founder and Vietnam War veteran Walt Fricke, Team-Up, utilizes a large nationwide network of volunteer aviators as mentors to help veterans make a smoother transition back to civilian life and community living.

Master Sgt. Christian Mackenzie, U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition Operations NCO, was a MH-53 Pavelow Helicopter flight engineer before being shot down in Falluja, Iraq in 2004.

"It is essential to get out into the civilian sector during your transition in order to make that next chapter in your life successful. Team-Up is that opportunity with exceptional Americans whose desire to mentor and assist us is exactly what we need," said Mackenzie. "The opportunity to learn without it costing you money for classes or potentially a job opportunity because you haven't mastered the return to civilian life is huge."

Unlike most veteran mentorship programs, Team-Up's main focus is not on career or job placement, but on friendship and fellowship.

"Team-Up joins returning combat zone veterans with our volunteer pilots. Something as simple as a shared flight can give our veterans a new perspective and potentially a new network of friends, new goals and/or career opportunities," says Fricke. "Team-Up aims to create lasting bonds between America's warriors and its highly supportive aviation community."

Team-Up, which officially started signing up post 9/11 combat zone veterans on 1 Aug. 2013, is being managed by its program director, retired Air Force Lt. Col. and St. Petersburg Beach native Andrew Lourake. He was the Department of Defense's first above knee amputee and a former Special Air Missions Presidential Support pilot at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. After his left leg amputation in 2002, he volunteered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital as a certified amputee peer visitor. Prior to his retirement and relocation in 2009, Lourake had mentored over 1,000 injured service members.

"In short, it's all about friendship and trying to give back to those who have fought for the freedom we enjoy as Americans," says Lourake.

If you are a returning combat zone veteran, or an aviator who wishes to volunteer you can email Team-Up at teamup@veteransairlift.org or visit the website at www.vacteamup.org to sign up. To contact the Veterans Airlift Command call 952-582-2911 or email info@veteransairlift.org. You can also visit the website at www.veteransairlift.org for more information.