After four U.S. Marines were killed in a military helicopter crash in El Centro earlier this April, a local nonprofit group stepped up to help these grieving families.
The group is called The Wingman Foundation and, as the name suggests, the group comes alongside Gold Star families in moments of crisis.
“It’s sobering," said Ricky Savage, the foundation's operations director. "You have to realize that you’re talking to a mother or a father or wife or husband who just lost the most significant person in their life.”
It's a conversation Savage has had 24 times now. The foundation is an all-volunteer, veteran-run organization that was founded in late 2014 to provide support for the families left behind after a Navy or Marine aviation mishap.
The non-profit reached out to help the families of Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad, 1st Lt. Samuel Phillips, Capt. Samuel Schultz and Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, who died in the April 3 training exercise.
"When the helicopter went down, obviously it affects four different families at that point there were four fatalities," Savage said. "But it's also far-reaching. The squadron itself and then all of the Marine airs stops for a moment."
The group covers funeral, travel, lodging costs for these military aviation families — something that helps Brooke Holland sleep better at night while her naval pilot husband flies.
"You don’t like to talk about mishaps, you don’t like to talk about the inherent threat of danger of their jobs," she said. "But it's a necessary evil. It's necessary to have someone who's will to be there to support those families. And I would like to think that if I was ever in that position, it’s good to know there is someone there to step up and give that support.”
But when Savage and his crew take a family under their wings. It means much more than giving support.
“It’s about healing," he said. "It’s about getting the families where they need to be and letting them that when we say family, we actually mean it’s forever.”