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Bonds Formed at Gathering of Eagles

Pilots in the Mid-Atlantic region had a chance to slip the surly bonds of the work week and come together for an eventful trip to Virginia Beach on Saturday, April 19. Seventeen volunteer pilots drove or flew to A Gathering of Eagles, the first of an annual event that featured a pilot briefing, a question and answer session, training for individuals wanting to become Community Representatives, and a banquet that recognized award-winning pilots from the region.

Beginning their Saturday morning with coffee, doughnuts and a brief tour of the Angel Flight headquarters on Haygood Road, the pilots had an opportunity to meet with the mission coordination team for the briefing, led by CEO and President Ed Boyer. This was followed by a discussion period during which pilots related concerns about fuel costs and shared best practices as to how to find fuel discounts from supportive FBOs. Volunteer pilot Ron Calugar from Midlothian, Virginia, explained the new, improved mission coordination program that he developed for Angel Flight (see the January/February Angel Flyer).

Jim Smith, vice president of operations, said the most significant aspect of the weekend was for pilots to spend personal time with the mission team. “These are the go-to pilots. For them to be able to meet us —many for the first time—will go a long way in forming that special bond. And to see the environment we work in was important.”

MJ Sablan, the director of mission coordination, said she welcomed “the personal opportunity to thank the pilots and their spouses for their support.”

During the afternoon, volunteer coordinator Mary Ellen Wernimont and vice president of programs, Lee Duckworth, conducted a training session for prospective Community Representatives “to equip them for public speaking about our programs,” said Wernimont. “Almost all in attendance were pilots. We gave them some supplies and asked them to notify us of events in their region.” Typical events are air shows, health conferences, civic meetings, military gatherings, and others.

The weekend climaxed with a banquet at the beautiful Virginia Beach Resort Hotel and Conference Center on the Chesapeake Bay. Some 60 guests in attendance enjoyed a buffet dinner of such specialties as she-crab soup, crab cakes, sirloin roast and a variety of delicious desserts. After the meal, Jim Smith announced the Angel Flight and Airlift Hope of America pilots of the year for each state as they came forward to receive their plaque awards.

The top pilot of the year for the entire Mid-Atlantic region was Frank Gulledge from Brandenburg, Kentucky. This was his second consecutive year to be so honored. He was also the pilot of the year for his state. Others receiving awards were Cleve Benedict (West Virginia), Doug Robinson (Maryland), Joe Federico (Virginia), Huston Simmons (Washington, D.C.), Dick Lawrence (Michigan), Jim Brady (North Carolina), and Dave Pride (Tennessee).

Another award winner was John Hoffmann, a pilot and Community Representative who received the distinction for the second year in a row of being Mid-Atlantic’s Community Representative of the Year.

The night ended with remarks by Steve Craven, chairman of the Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic board and a volunteer pilot since 1995. Steve said that transporting patients and families with unbelievably difficult medical problems makes him appreciate the many blessings he and his family have received. He praised all the pilots for their devoted service and mentioned the resourceful efforts of Steve Patterson, Angel Flight’s former executive director, to manage the 2,600 relief missions flown during Hurricane Katrina.

“They’re good people,” Jim Smith said of Angel Flight and Airlift Hope of America pilots. “Hopefully, they’ll continue to serve and maybe even give a bit more.”

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