STEM Education Saves Vets

By: John A. Carlos II - Words and Photos 

All photos are Special to The Post and Courier

Lori Wicker talks about an AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Lori Wicker talks about an AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.


On Tuesday, I walked through a crowded hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. Hemmed in by helicopters at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, history came to be a tangible, tactile thing. Since 1999, the Celebrate Freedom Foundation has been typically focused on STEM driven education programs, narrowing the apparent gap between the classroom and the material world.


Using military aircraft from the Vietnam era and older, Celebrate Freedom strives to simulate career links with America's future labor force towards technology and engineering careers. But that's just the surface mission of the nonprofit, it becomes greater when it restores and honors veterans, most of the foundation consists of former military members. Some are disabled or suffer from post-traumatic stress, but working on these helicopters and other aircraft helps give volunteers a sense of purpose.


COVID-19 has cut into a lot of the foundation's outreach in 2020 but has found a way through the pandemic in part due to a private restoration project of a Bell UH-1A or “Huey.” Volunteers work on the "Huey" a couple of times a week, and in my experience, it feels more like a coffee house than a workshop. Volunteers chat and tell jokeswhile working enjoying their shared camaraderie, in a mission that is very close to their hearts.


"Every time we fly we honor those people that served and lost their lives," Lori Wicker said on a beautiful sunny day next to a transport UH-1H. She went on, "that's the reason for the patches, we honor them" pointing to a ceiling of the "Huey" lined with various military unit patches.


If you'd like to help Celebrate Freedom Foundation achieve its goals, here's a link to donate. https://www.gocff.org/donate



Lori Wicker Executive Vice President at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation tells a story about the organization's support during DART OPS 407. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Lori Wicker Executive Vice President at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation tells a story about the organization's support during DART OPS 407.


Tom Robbins operations manager paints an AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Tom Robbins operations manager paints an AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.


Jack Lovelady and Mark Inabinet place air intake covers on an AH-1F Cobra at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Jack Lovelady and Mark Inabinet place air intake covers on an AH-1F Cobra at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


Patches of various military units lined the ceiling of a Bell UH-1H “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Patches of various military units lined the ceiling of a Bell UH-1H “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


The cockpit of a Bell UH-1H “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

The cockpit of a Bell UH-1H “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

"Maggie" an AH-1F Cobra in Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger was painted byDru Blair with volunteers from CFF, and it is named after Martha Raye.


A painting of a cobra adorns the side of a Bell AH-1F helicopter at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

A painting of a cobra adorns the side of a Bell AH-1F helicopter at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


A working Beechcraft T-34 Mentor outside the hanger at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

A working Beechcraft T-34 Mentor outside the hanger at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


The tail-end of two AH-1F Cobra’s at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

The tail-end of two AH-1F Cobra’s at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


Boyd Davis (middle) talks to Chris Anderson (left), and Tom Robbins (right) in the Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Boyd Davis (middle) talks to Chris Anderson (left), and Tom Robbins (right) in the Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hanger at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. 


Larry Quinn, a volunteer at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, installs a battery switch onto a Bell UH-1A “Huey.” John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Larry Quinn, a volunteer at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, installs a battery switch onto a Bell UH-1A “Huey.”


Roger Long, a volunteer at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation preps an engine cowling for painting. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Roger Long, a volunteer at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation preps an engine cowling for painting.


Mark Inabinet peels off a piece of adhesive tape from the body of a Bell UH-1A “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

Mark Inabinet peels off a piece of adhesive tape from the body of a Bell UH-1A “Huey” at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.


Keywords: South Carolina; above the fold; editorial; news; journalism; 2021; photojournalist; photojournalism; photographer; SC photographer; Columbia; Columbia SC Photojournalist; soda city; Vets; veterans; Post and Courier; Free Times; photographer; Helicopter; events; volunteers; CFF; celebrate freedom foundation; Lori Wicker; Vietnam; Huey; Army; Navy; Marines; armed forces; military



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