Wounded, Handicapped, Afghanistan Vet Humiliated By Delta
Just over one year ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Brown was severely injured while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmund Province when he stepped on an explosive device. The injuries were so bad that he ended up losing both of his legs. He’s been recovering for the past year at Walter Read Army Medical Center and other facilities. Earlier this month, though, he was traveling back to Washington on Delta Airlines when he found himself subjected to treatment that no human being, least of all a wounded warrior, should have to face:
Brown was “humiliated” to the point of tears on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington after being clumsily wheeled to the back row of the plane, according to a complaint sent to the airline by an outraged fellow passenger.
Worse yet, according to retired Army Col. Nickey Knighton’s detailed “customer care” report to Delta, efforts by several fellow vets to shift Brown from coach to a first class seat offered by another flyer, were rebuffed by the crew. Flight attendants insisted no one could move through the cabin because the doors were being closed for takeoff, she wrote.
Knighton, a former helicopter pilot with nearly 30 years of service, who turned out to be seated in the same back row as Brown, assumed that because he boarded last, he would be seated up front for comfort and ease of exit in case of emergency. Instead, she wrote in a complaint obtained by the Washington Post’s “She The People” blog, he was squeezed into a narrow aviation wheelchair that “bumped up against stationary aisle seats as he was wheeled through the aircraft. [He] was obviously humiliated by being paraded through the aircraft and was visibly upset. I touched Brown on his shoulders and asked if he was okay. Tears ran down his face, but he did not cry out loud.”
What Knighton did not tell Delta, perhaps because she did not know, was that Brown, 29, was also very ill with a high fever. He was returning, via Atlanta, from a hunting trip in Alabama for injured service members to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Injured on his second deployment to Afghanistan after joining the Marines in April, 2009, Brown has spent nearly a year at the complex outside Washington, D.C.
After six months in the hospital, including a period when he was in a coma, Brown moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the medical campus that he shares with his mother, Lyn Braden-Reed. He undergoes daily physical therapy to adjust to his new legs, she said. Friends and family follow his progress via Facebook posts and photos.
But while Knighton’s complaint reflects controlled rage, retired Army Lt. Col. Keith Gafford, also on the flight, held nothing back during a phone interview.
“I have been flying with Delta for a gazillion years and this crew treated Chris worse than you’d treat any thing, not even any body. I did 27 years in the military. I have seen a lot of things and have seen a lot of guys die, but I have never seen a Marine cry,” said Gafford, who served two tours in Iraq. “What the kid said was, ‘I have given everything that I can give and this is the way I am being treated? This is how I will be treated for the rest of my life?’”
In fact, Gafford added, two first-class passengers offered to switch seats with Brown, “but the flight attendant said we have to go. How many times have we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes? You could close the door and still make an adjustment.” The Texas native blasted the crew for being “hard as woodpecker lips.”
Knighton said time was hardly the issue since the plane took off five minutes ahead of schedule and arrived at Washington Reagan National Airport a quarter hour early. She also said crew members refused to divulge their names or discuss the situation, although one attendant suggested she speak to the captain upon landing. By the time she reached the cockpit, the captain had vanished. The first officer declined to engage in conversation, and urged her to contact customer service.
Delta’s response so far has basically been corporate nonsense:
Michael R. Thomas of Delta’s corporate communications office in Atlanta offered this emailed statement regarding Knighton’s letter:
“The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Asked to list possible next steps-reprimands, fines, suspension, termination-or estimate how long the probe might last, Thomas sent a second email: “As previously stated, we are actively looking into the incident and have no additional details to share at this time.”
One would hope that there’s some kind of reprimand for the members of the flight crew that treated this young man in this callous manner. No human being deserves to be treated this way.
H/T: The Moderate Voice