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Volunteering for veterans: Chartering a mission of good will

Piedmont First Officer Royce Repka learned that while Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals treat veterans, they do not provide transportation to and from appointments which can be an obstacle for some, especially if the nearest VA hospital is a few states away. As a United States Army veteran himself, the thought of filling the gap to help his fellow veterans was the motivation to launch his own non-profit called Flights of Gratitude.

Founded in 2019, Flights of Gratitude provides free transportation in a six-passenger, Beechcraft Baron 58 airplane to military members and their family members to and from medical appointments.

“In a small airplane, I have the ability to pick up patients near their home at a small airport and provide transportation to the airport nearest to their appointment,” shares Royce. “In the time it may take the patient to drive there, transporting them via air is quicker, convenient and allows them to relax during the trip. Sometimes going to the appointment is difficult enough so I want to make their journey a little easier.” Royce proudly serves the Northeastern United States.

After the events of 9/11, Royce left his math education career behind to join the United States Army where he served six years, including two tours in Iraq.  Following his military service, Royce returned to teaching math and one day, he decided to take a discovery flight. “I wanted to get my private pilot license as something fun to do on the weekends,” shares Royce. The passion grew and he decided to pursue a new career path where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Aviation from Liberty University.

While building his flight hours, he met a Captain who spoke to him about his own career at Piedmont Airlines and advised they were hiring.  When Royce reached his flight hour requirement, he applied and joined Piedmont in September 2022 as a first officer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When his colleagues learn about his non-profit organization, Royce says they are very supportive and encouraging.  He enjoys flying missions for his fellow veterans and has flown 10 missions so far. “All of the veterans I have helped have impacted me in various ways,” shares Royce. “Hearing the reasons they joined the military, about their time in the military, challenges they’ve faced while serving and in civilian life, have all helped me appreciate how the military serves as a melting pot and reminds me that we all have challenges and triumphs.”

One military veteran, Nicholas St. John shared his experience utilizing Royce to get to his appointment in Delaware from New Hampshire. “Traveling by air to my appointment enabled me to get to my pain management appointment and back in the same day which is a big deal,” shared St. John. “He saved me many uncomfortable hours in a car and the ride was so comfortable that I fell asleep. I’m working with Royce to arrange travel to my next appointment.” Royce enjoys the time when the veterans fall asleep during the flight knowing they are relaxed enough to get some rest.

“It feels great to help veterans and their families when they need just need a little extra support while they are going through a tough time in life,” reflects Royce.

Piedmont is dedicated to actively reaching out to veterans through collaborations with non-profit organizations, targeted advertising in military publications, and participation in virtual and in-person career fairs. If you are a veteran or military spouse interested in working for an airline that wholeheartedly supports our military families, we encourage you to join us at Piedmont.  Click here to view our current openings.