OKEECHOBEE — Friends of Army Aviation will be coming to the Okeechobee County Airport on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Come out and experience the rich history of army aviation and even ride in a UH-1 Huey helicopter.
The event will include food vendors and a musical performance by Blackbird Anthem, an authentic Southern rock group consisting solely of veterans. The group members are from Sebring and perform many original songs written by group members.
Tickets for the rides on the helicopter can be purchased Pizza Heaven ( ask for Angie Varson or at Okeechobee Air (ask for Lori Williams) or at Adron Fence (ask for Jennifer Chambers.)
There are 3 different sponsorship levels; groups of ten riders choose a sponsorship level. Single rider tickets are $70. Tickets are sold on a first come-first served basis. Part of the proceeds will be donated back to Okeechobee veterans.
According to their website, Friends of Army Aviation is a non-profit formed to help others feel what the veterans felt as they flew into war to protect the freedom we enjoy. They hope to make it easier to connect with the veterans on a new level, and learn what it was like to serve their country. The organization presents the army aviation story to the American people through static displays of legacy Army aircraft and an associated ride program.
"Our passion is to convey the importance of Army Aviation and to remember the role it played in armed conflicts by providing troops with the support needed to achieve their mission and to ensure their survival on the battlefield," states the website.
Local veteran Todd Chambers is a member of the Friends of Army Aviation group and has been instrumental in bringing the event to Okeechobee. In 2021, the group stopped in Okeechobee on the way to the annual Stuart Air Show. They were greeted by a crowd of about 100.
“We like to say this aircraft is a healer and an educator,” said Friends of Aviation President John "Doc" Holladay. “It gives closure to Vietnam veterans to actually be able to discuss with their family what they did when they were 18 and 19 years old on this aircraft. And then it’s also an educator when you take a five or six year old kid and put them in the cockpit and all of a sudden, when he gets to be 16 or 17 years old, he remembers back and it may be the switch that triggers his mind that he wants to be an aviator.”
Gregg Maynard another local veteran said ," The flights have helped quite a few Vietnam veterans heal. The last time most of those guys flew in one was not in the best circumstances or environment. By flying in it now, it somehow helps them let a lot of things go."
For more information about Friends of Army Aviation, visit Friends of Army Aviation.
To learn more about Blackbird Anthem, visit Blackbird Anthem - Southern Rock, Music
Lake Okeechobee News reporter Richard Marion contributed to this story.