Chris Gschwendtner was lucky to be alive after his vehicle was struck by an explosive while on the infamous IED Highway between Baghdad and the city’s international airport. He had a concussion, but knew he had dodged the big one. Then less than two months later, Chris had to be airlifted to a field hospital after a rocket exploded next to him in while he was in the city’s “Green Zone”. The concussive force of both explosions left the young infantryman with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), the hidden injury so common to those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. His injuries put him on the path to leaving active duty, and cut short his plan to become a helicopter pilot.
For the young man who grew up in a military family, his first mission became finding a way to continue serving his country, and he has done that by becoming a member of the U. S. Army Reserves. His second mission was to prove to himself that he can still excel as a student; this time in aviation. Studying doesn’t come as easily for the recipient of two Purple Hearts as it did when he earned a business degree from Penn State, so Chris simply bears down and works harder. That’s how he became a Sport Pilot early in 2011, and that’s how he has now become a certified Light Sport Repairman.
With tuition and expenses paid through his Able Flight Career Training Scholarship, Chris graduated with a 98 on his final exam at Rainbow Aviation in California, and within days was hired by the maintenance department at Chesapeake Sport Pilot near his home in Maryland (where he earned his Sport Pilot Certificate).
“Chris is an outstanding example of why we created this scholarship”, said Charles Stites of Able Flight. “With the help of a generous donor we paid for his training, and Chris has now proven he deserved the opportunity. During his training at Rainbow Aviation I heard that he didn’t even take a weekend day off. He just kept pushing himself to learn as much as he could. Now his dedication has paid off with his new job at Chesapeake Sport Pilot.”
Of his scholarship and his new career, Gschwendtner said, “This opportunity has opened so many new doors for me. I hope that I can live up to that and make all the people that make Able Flight possible very proud. I want to thank them once again for seeing the potential in me and giving me this amazing opportunity.”
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