BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — “I think I’d rather fly than breathe,” said Dave Wood, a pilot with a passion for flying and a strong sense of patriotism. 

In February 2023, he reached the milestone of flying 100 military veterans throughout the country. 

He finds soldiers he can help through a network of volunteer pilots called the Veterans Airlift Command. The group provides free, private air travel for injured veterans. 

Using his personal airplane, he says he could “could fly to Walter Reed blindfold.” 

“I don’t have to answer to a board. I don’t raise money. It’s my personal little ministry,” Wood said. 

Wood explained that commercial flying is especially difficult for injured veterans, where “they run them through metal detectors because there’s metal all over ’em,” said Wood. “I mean, I get it, but I hate it.”

In 2010, he made his first flight — a homecoming trip for a soldier named Chewy. 

“And when it was time for me to go, I told Chewy, “I’ve been with a hero today.” He said, ‘no, Dave, my buddies that didn’t come home are the heroes.’ And I came home by myself and said, ‘I’m in this. As long as I can do it, I’m gonna do this.’”

Wood sees rainbows often. He takes this symbol of hope as a sign he’s on the right path. 

“More than a few times, it’s been completely evident and clear to me that I was exactly in the place I was supposed to be,” said Wood. 

His passion for flying is in his DNA. His father, Captain Bill Wood, was a bomber pilot during World War II in North Africa. 

“I can feel my daddy next to me- sometimes I feel like I can reach out and touch him. He was that wonderful generation, the best of the best,” Wood said. 

Dave served as a clerk during Vietnam. He never deployed, joking that the worst he ever got was a paper cut.

“These soldiers do the real heavy work,” he said. “I never did.”

Sometimes Wood speaks to various groups and organizations about his “little ministry.” He said that the reaction to his work is that everyone loves what he does. 

“But the reason they love what I do is that they adore these soldiers,” Wood said. “My era didn’t experience much of that. It just warms my heart that we’re back loving on these heroes.”

Wood isn’t done yet. He says he will fly as long as he can, and he is already looking forward to his next 100 flights.