With help from Veteran’s Airlift Command and Cessna, wounded Marine Adam Kisielewski was treated to a flight from his home in Maryland to Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL. With him on the trip were his wife Carrie and son Evan. Upon landing he was welcomed by a group of Marines, Charles Stites and Steve Merritt of Able Flight, and Walt Fricke of Veteran’s Airlift Command.
For the young man who recently soloed for the first time and is now well on his way to his pilot’s license, every day is special and would have been hard to predict just a few years ago, because Adam Kisielewski shouldn’t be alive. From the instant he passed through an explosives-rigged door in Iraq on August 21st in 2005, Adam has been living his second life, the one given to him by his own fighting spirit and the wonders of modern battlefield medicine.
It was only a month and two days after Adam’s deployment to Iraq began when his squad was given the assignment of clearing a school of suspected insurgents. The blast cost Adam his left arm at the shoulder and his right leg below his knee, and it cost the life of his fellow Marine, Lieutenant James “Cat” Cathey, mortally wounded as the two men were on a room to room search. The actions of his squad, an immediate evacuation in a Humvee to a field hospital, and the superior emergency care he received gave him the opportunity to live. From Iraq he was airlifted to Germany, and then, in five days Adam was back “home”, with home being Bethesda Naval Hospital for seven weeks, and then Walter Reed for eleven months of intensive rehabilitation for his catastrophic injuries.
Now, a little more than six years since his new life began, Adam and his wife Carrie have a young son named Evan, he is the vice-president of Operation Second Chance, a nonprofit created to serve other wounded veterans, and he is an avid motorcyclist. But for the Marine who once had the honor and responsibility of serving a tour on the presidential protection detail at Camp David, there is another goal left unfulfilled until now. He wants to be a pilot.
In his scholarship application he wrote, “Like everything else in my life I believed I could accomplish the goal of becoming an aviator but recognized serious hurdles when it comes to learning to fly with my injuries. The Able Flight Scholarship would afford me the opportunity to learn how to fly safely in a modified aircraft that I never thought would be available. Furthermore, I would be learning to fly from an experienced group of individuals that recognize disabilities being more of an opportunity than a disqualification. ”
With his work at Operation Second Chance keeping him close to Walter Reed, Adam’s training will take place near his home in Frederick, Maryland with the assistance of instructors Dave Hirschman (Senior Editor of AOPA PILOT Magazine), and former Air Force Colonel, Vietnam vet and F-16 test pilot, Dean Stickell.
Adam will learn to fly in a Flight Design trainer being provided to Able Flight under contract from Northampton Aeronautics of the Northampton Airport in Massachusetts. The Flight Design is owned by Joe D’Aguair who was very supportive of this important mission. Of their decision to send the plane to Frederick, Rich MacIssac of Northampton said, “We believe in exposing as many people as possible to aviation. One way we do this is by proving how accessible aviation can be. The opportunity to work with Able Flight and provide our Flight Design CTLS with the hand controls is a perfect example of that.”
“Adam’s story is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice and the spirit of the many men and women who serve in harm’s way, and their willingness to risk everything”, said Charles Stites of Able Flight. “He is a determined young man who tells all who will listen that he feels that he has been given so much by having the opportunity to serve. Well, now it’s our opportunity to give back by helping Adam realize his dream of leaning to fly.”
UPDATE: Adam’s training began in late February and is going very well.
(Photos courtesy AOPA PILOT & Adam Kisielewski)