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Veterans helping veterans

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Todd McFeeley
  • 171st Public Affairs
More than 130 members of the 171st Air Refueling Wing volunteered to assist with the 31st Annual Veteran Wheelchair Games which were held in Pittsburgh July 31- Aug. 6. Our unit provided support for veteran athletes with boarding their departing flights and transporting luggage.

Many unit members spent part of Sunday of their August drill, Aug. 7, at the Pittsburgh International Airport. They were able to help the athletes with boarding their respective flights. Some Guardsmen helped by lifting the veterans from their wheelchairs into aisle chairs prior to boarding the plane. The aisle chair is a narrow seat on wheels used to usher passengers down the aircraft aisle to their seats.

Unit members worked in teams of three to ensure the safest lifting practices were met. Once the athlete was lifted from his or her wheelchair and secured onto the aisle chair, the lifting team then escorted the veteran to his or her seat on the airplane and assisted with lifting and securing that vet into the seat on the aircraft. Lift team members also would assist with transporting any carry-on luggage or other personal items that the veterans or their companions needed aid with.

Airmen worked in varying shifts beginning at 2 a.m. until about 6 p.m. that day.

As with anything else the unit is involved in, there were some planning and training items that needed taken care of prior to transferring the athletes. Rich Ward, 171st chaplain's office, handled much of the coordination for our unit.

Ward works for the VA as an office automation assistant. He was also tasked as the Airport Committee Chairman for the Veteran Wheelchair Games.

Those who wanted to do their part to help were required to submit their names in advance. The Airport Authority and Transportation Security Administration verified the names on the list then awarded clearance to our individuals.

All volunteers participated in a wheelchair lifting safety class prior to aiding the vets. The lifting class was required of all volunteers. This training took place Aug. 6 in the wing's dining hall.

"The folks from the 171st are what made departure day run as smoothly as it did. They worked their tails off and the vets loved having uniformed personnel assisting them.

It was a nice way to close out the games," said Ward.

This is the second time the games have been held in Pittsburgh. The first was 1998.