While Gov't Squabbles Over COVID, 16-Year-Old Trainee Pilot Delivers Supplies To Rural Hospitals


I know the two things aren’t analogous, but the starkness of the comparison blows me away: The government can’t get relief out to small businesses but a 16-year-old can get supplies to rural hospitals by flying a plane there.

According to The Associated Press, that’s what teenaged TJ Kim is doing. During the stay-at-home order, he’s not allowed to play lacrosse. He’s not allowed to drive alone in his home state of Virginia, not that there’s really anywhere to drive to.

Kim, who lives in McLean, was disappointed that his lacrosse season was nixed due to coronavirus. Holed up at home with his family, he decided he wanted to do something to stay active, preferably something that was of service.

So, video games were out. So was hanging out and playing around with his cellphone.

Kim is a pretty motivated teenager, though. He’s taking flying lessons — and he decided to use his time in the air wisely.

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The 16-year-old, who goes to the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland, is delivering supplies to rural hospitals in need with his flight training. His first delivery was to a 25-bed hospital in Luray, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley.

“They kind of conveyed to me that they were really forgotten about. Everyone was wanting to send donations to big city hospitals,” he said. “Every hospital is hurting for supplies, but it’s the rural hospitals that really feel forgotten.”

He’s even got a name for his delivery service: Operation SOS, or Supplies Over Skies.

And keep in mind, this isn’t insignificant stuff. There are seven rural critical access hospitals in Virginia. Kim wants to fly to each one to deliver supplies. The longest flight, which he’s yet to make, would be to Clintwood, which is in the extreme southwestern corner of the state.

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The most difficult part of the mission seems to be picking up the supplies to deliver to the hospitals, however.

Dave Powell, the 16-year-old’s flight instructor, spoke highly of the teen’s mission.

“For TJ to be more concerned with the needs of others in his melancholy state just reiterated to me how amazing this young man is,” he said.

On one of his most recent lessons in the Cessna 172, he flew into nearby Woodstock, Virginia, with 3,000 pairs of gloves, 1,000 head covers, 500 shoe covers, 50 non-surgical masks, 20 pairs of protective eyewear and 10 bottles of concentrated hand sanitizer.

And, he says, they’re even appreciative in the control tower, as well.

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“As we were coming down to land, we were calling out our position,” Kim told the AP. “And all of a sudden, on the frequency, we hear from the ground … ‘Is that you with the supplies?’ and I was just kind of shocked because I didn’t expect that. So I called back, ‘Yes, that is us with the supplies.'”

So, just so we’re clear: Government can’t get these hospitals this stuff but a 16-year-old in a Cessna can. I mean, it’s not the most efficient method of delivery, but he certainly got it there, and he would be taking lessons in the plane anyway. After all, he prefers it to being on the road.

“It’s a lot more free,” he said. “When you’re driving, you have to be in your lane, watch your blind spot and everything.”

His father, Thomas, is the one who booked TJ’s first flying lesson. Thomas is happy his son found “something that combines serving the community and his love of flying,” particularly after the disappointment of the lacrosse season being canceled.

“The stars really aligned here,” he said.

“After I landed, all I could think about was going back up,” TJ said.

This is charity and human decency at its finest.

These hospitals are somewhat forgotten, particularly when you look at the front-line facilities that get most of the media coverage. It’s also a brilliant plan on the part of a very accomplished, motivated youngster. He’s the kind of American anyone could be proud of. (He even wants to go to the Naval Academy and become a pilot, just in case you didn’t get how red, white and blue this guy was.)

TJ Kim is, in short, a symbol of what America can be when our motive power is unbridled.

Yes, most of us are cooped up in our homes and we’re not pilots. However, there are things you can do.

If you’re young and well, volunteer to deliver groceries or other needed supplies to seniors or at-risk individuals. Your local food bank could certainly use some help. Sew masks if you know how.

You don’t have to fly a Cessna.

There are plenty of people out there doing it, too. Americans are doers. Our government, unfortunately, has never achieved quite that level of perspicacity.

Yes, I should think of the amazing things this teen is doing and all of the supplies he’s managed to wrangle and deliver to rural critical access hospitals. My mind keeps on wandering back to Washington. That’ll always raise your blood pressure in situations like this.

I should stop that.

Good work, young man. You’ll be a credit to the Naval Academy when you get there.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture