Tad Stuart was not always certain about his future. There was a question of whether Tad would be able to fly again after a catastrophic helicopter crash in Iraq completely damaged his spinal canal and broke his back in five places. Because of this, he endured a long road of grueling surgeries, painful rehabilitation, and countless medications.
Doctors cleared Tad medically and physically to fly, but to Tad, that wasn’t enough for him to get back in the pilot’s seat. He described his feelings by paraphrasing Yogi Berra, “Eighty percent of flying is half mental.”
He credits Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) with helping him face the challenges that stood in the way of his recovery, and in a remarkable moment of independence, Tad Stuart decided to re-start the career that had brought fulfillment to his life. He would pursue life on his own terms.
“With Wounded Warrior Project, you belong to something again,” says Tad. “That support helps your mental game. It’s the same brotherhood you share in the military. They keep you involved with the warrior community. That’s why I tell other warriors, ‘Don’t give up, believe in yourself, know what you want, and go for it.’”
Tad proved to himself, and to everyone else, that he could fly again. Now, he works as a helicopter pilot for Air Evac Lifeteam, an air-ambulance service offering critical care transport for those who live in medically under-served areas.
“When you respond to an emergency, you encounter people who are going through the worst moments of their lives, and time is critical – a matter of life or death,” says Tad. “Being successful with each and every rescue is my mission in life, because I remember what it was like to need help, to be in pain, and to be helpless. Brave responders saved my life; now I want to help save other people’s lives.”
Tad says he often sees the warrior spirit in the civilian men and women he helps rescue. That’s why he finds it so rewarding. He’s inspired by that spirit and thrives on experiencing it with fellow injured veterans.
“I was pretty much out of it when I returned [to the United States] and woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center,” says Tad. “Receiving my WWP backpack was the first spark that made me believe I could be whole again. But WWP is so much more than a backpack. They provide programs and services to get warriors back out into the world, meet each other, and connect with others who understand their needs. WWP also provides job training, college education training, and coaching classes to [help warriors] get back to [living] life. There are programs to help warriors deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others to help families deal with being caregivers. It’s a great resource that helps continue to build lives for wounded soldiers [and their families].”
Tad’s message to other warriors dealing with physical and emotional injuries is simple: you are
“I’ve been there, done that. Yes, your situation is unique, but many others have walked in unique shoes of their own, and they are willing to help you. We’re all here for each other and through Wounded Warrior Project, we can link up, even if we live thousands of miles away. Get out there with your fellow brothers [and sisters] and share that bond again.”