Army green inspires Air Force blue: Reservists help wounded warrior

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tiffany Lindemann
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
A crew chief yells out which wrench is needed to tighten a bolt as another maintainer reads the technical instructions on the next step of the job. A few guys laugh and tease their friend who looks for the drill hole on a piece of sheet metal. All the men look strikingly similar in their matching T-shirts as they diligently work. The scene undeniably resembles the typical Air Force flight line.

This time though, there are no aircraft to be repaired. There is no rank on the sleeve, and there are no jet engines running.

Instead, the crew chiefs from the 459th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from the 459th Air Refueling Wing wear matching Patriots Honor shirts as they spend their Saturday unpacking tools, building tables and outfitting a home garage in Annapolis for U.S. Army Sgt. (ret.) Adam Keys, a wounded Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, Feb. 27.

Keys was severely injured in the Southern Province of Afghanistan in July 2010 when his Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle was hit by several Improvised Explosive Devices, causing him to lose both legs and his left arm. Since then, Keys has undergone nearly 140 surgeries, said his mother Julie Keys.

Keys served as an airborne combat engineer with the 20th Engineer Brigade, and before his accident he enjoyed spending his time building RC model cars, tinkering with tools and wood working. Since July 10, 2010 however, Keys' days have been full of surgeries, doctor appointments and therapy sessions, leaving no time for building RC cars.

This is where Patriots Honor stepped in. The organization, a nonprofit started by three Air Force chief master sergeants, helps combat veteran amputees by supplying the warriors with equipment, gear and resources to help them get back to their favorite hobbies and activities.

"There are amazing organizations out there that help wounded vets with houses and finances, but there was nothing to help these guys get back to doing what they love," said Lt. Col. David Lineback, an instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College and a member on the Patriots Honor Board of Directors. "Patriots Honor provides Adam and others with the resources to continue their hobbies and passion, and ultimately help rehabilitation as they integrate back into civilian life."

Keys was an instant inspiration to the organization.

"One of our members met Adam a year ago, and he was just so positive," he said. "Adam and these guys motivate us. I mean, look at how he approaches life. The chiefs Instantly leapt into action to help him."

According to a study conducted by Pew Research, approximately 44 percent of veterans who served in the years following Sept. 11, 2001, have had a difficult time integrating back into daily life and hobbies - a problem that Patriots Honor, with the help of military and other volunteers, is looking to help fix.

"What these Airmen and volunteers are doing for Adam is helping him get back to what he loves to do," said Julie, Keys' mom. "It never gets old seeing the kind-heartedness and giving spirit of people who want to be there for my son. It comes from their heart, and it's something I will never get over."

Patriots Honor raised money to help purchase Keys two steel worktables, top-of-the-line toolboxes, dozens of high quality tool sets and a $1,000 gift card to an online model-car store to buy parts for his RC cars.

Keys, with an unwavering smile of appreciation, expressed his excitement for the new addition to his garage and the help of the volunteers.

"This is absolutely great," he said beaming. "These guys coming out to help are amazing. I'm humbled, grateful and will probably never leave my garage."

To set up the event, Rodney Hick, a flight chief at the 459th AMXS, who also volunteers with Patriots Honor Organization, got word of the intent to help Keys and put out the call out to his work center for volunteers to help unpack, build and set up the garage for the wounded warrior.

Ten Airmen volunteered and spent a half-day building the set-up. Even though it was an early Saturday start time, there was nothing but words of gratitude from the volunteers.

"Look at everything Adam has done for us," said Senior Master Sgt. Ed Hrabosky, 459th AMXS flight chief. "He needs help, and this is the least we can do for him. I'm incredibly happy to be here."

Although Keys is not a stranger to the spotlight and has been recognized by other veteran organizations, his continued humbleness of the volunteers' support was apparent.

"These guys who are taking their time to come out here think they are helping just me, but they are doing more," he said. "When people help me like this, it just motivates me to help others in need. They are having a bigger impact than they know."

It wasn't only the Keys' family that was touched by the acts of kindness. Hrabosky said this was his first time volunteering for an event like this, but the experience changed his outlook and inspired him to do even more to help other wounded veterans in need.

"I've already talked to people I've met here about helping others," he said. "I would absolutely like to start getting more involved to help these guys more. They need it."

The Keys' story brought together the military and community on one day for the wounded warrior. A local Eagle Scout troop helped with landscaping and clearing brush from Keys' front yard, while 459th members built tool tables and outfitted his garage.

At the end of the day's work, it was a different sort of joint-force operation that was successfully executed. In his final thank you and good-bye, Keys included a hard-hitting message that prompted a round of applause from the 459th Airmen.

"This is incredible," he said. "I know we all joke and take jabs from one branch to the other, but at the end of the day we are all brothers and sisters, and your work has motivated me to do more for someone else in need. Thank you all."

No Adam, thank you.

If interested in volunteering to help a veteran in need, log on to or contact the local Airman and Family Readiness Center to help make a difference.