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Working Week: Brock Barrett, former captain on a mercy mission

Former US Army captain Brock Barrett left military service for a life as an insurance agent, but his Christian drive to help others led to missionary flights and support as chairman of Air Calvary

Where did you fly with the army?

I served as an attack helicopter platoon leader with the air cavalry on the demilitarised zone in South Korea, and as a scout helicopter platoon leader with the air cavalry in Alaska. As a young boy, I always wanted to be a soldier. Growing up in the Vietnam era, I was fascinated with the concept of air mobility, and working in complex and difficult environments.

Brock Barrett, Air Calvary
 © Air Calvary
Barrett (left): experienced pilot but busy just bringing it all together

Quite a contrast to insurance work and charity flights

I left active duty with the army in 1993 to take over my father's market position as a State Farm (insurance) agent in New York. I used my spare time to learn civilian rotary-wing aviation, qualifying in the Schweizer 300, Robinson R22 and R44. It occurred to me that I could find operators on location in lesser-developed countries and rent their aircraft to assist with health and development work in the region.

After being challenged by a missionary doctor in Honduras to run air-mobile health clinics, I found a Robinson operator in Guatemala and made a few reconnaissance runs in an R22 from there to Honduras. Later, I found a banana farmer in Honduras with a Huey available, which we used to run health clinics in isolated mountain villages.

That success led to Air Calvary?

We were encouraged to incorporate our efforts, and in 2004 Air Calvary was born, gaining US 501c3 status in 2005. We now have a team of 70 volunteers including aviators, mechanics, doctors, nurses, current and former service members, clergy, students, teachers, laypersons and other professionals.

There's only one paid employee?

We had an opportunity to create a full-time air ambulance programme for the Central African country of Gabon, where we own and operate a Cessna 207, an eight-seat, single-engined bush aircraft. This programme was developed and led by our one paid employee, Reverend/pilot/mechanic Steve Straw. It connects the capital city and other communities to the remote and renowned Bongolo hospital near the Republic of Congo border.

But Haiti is your main focus?

For several years, on limited means, we sought to establish a helicopter programme in Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, the Haitian government was not willing to grant our US charity Haitian NGO status, which would have given us a legal operating footprint there.

We have been employing helicopters from Helidosa, across the border in the Dominican Republic, on missions in Haiti.

Current missions involve moving aid workers and supplies to and from the Dominican Republic.

What could more donations do?

Our main financial backers to date are private individuals, churches and smaller aid groups. Larger donations would allow us to create a permanent helicopter transport solution in Haiti. We would also be able to build upon our work in Africa, and improve our wider response capability.

What niche isn't filled by the UN or Red Cross?

The UN's mission is primarily peacekeeping and their aircraft are often not easily accessible. The Red Cross does excellent work, but I do not know that it specialises in aviation. Air Calvary specialises in bush flying, and making aviation transport available to all those in need, as resources allow. We hope to expand but need financial assistance and committed partners to do so.

Is the job ever overwhelming?

The work is difficult and complex and is conducted in dangerous and dynamic environments. Every mission has high stakes, but is rewarding. The work can be stressful, but the life-saving mission compels us onward.