Finding Freedom from Physical Limitations: Wounded Veterans Demonstrate Tenacious Fighting Spirit

The fighting spirit, found in all U.S. service members, propels them to overcome every challenge presented – on and off the battlefield. Their continuous drive to accomplish any mission in an irreducible effort to defend our freedoms is a true testament to the power of sacrifice. Every day, it is important to take a moment and give thanks to the brave men and women who have made great sacrifices to protect our nation. The Fighting Spirit Scholarship for wounded veterans is one way Lockheed Martin gives back to our nation’s heroes.

In 2016, Lockheed Martin announced retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Adam Keys and retired U.S. Army Capt. Ferris Butler as the recipients of the inaugural Fighting Spirit Scholarship. The scholarship provides wounded veterans the opportunity to learn to fly and sail through programs at Able Flight and Warrior Sailing Program (WSP).

The program’s mission is to empower disabled veterans to regain confidence by providing educational courses, career training and physical activity programs that enhance individual and professional growth.

Adam Key

“When I first got on the water I felt free, I felt amazing and I knew right away that I wanted to do it again. Thank goodness for Lockheed Martin and this scholarship for allowing me to have this opportunity.”

– Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Adam Keys

Ferris Butler

“It is a serendipitous experience, how am I lucky enough, to loose both of my feet and almost lose the ability to walk but yet learn to fly.”

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Ferris Butler

After a successful year of training and preparation, Keys and Butler overcame formidable obstacles to attain goals once deemed impossible. With fighting spirit, both recipients exercised fortitude to defeat doubt and defy all odds as they conquered the seas and soared through the skies. Keys and Butler’s journeys to the impossible changed their lives by challenging the veterans to push past all limits to reach a life of indescribable fulfillment.

Conquering the Seas

Keys, an Annapolis, Maryland, resident, was injured in Afghanistan in 2010 after an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his patrol vehicle. After more than five years of physical therapy and 130 surgeries later, Keys, a triple amputee and Purple Heart recipient, medically retired from the U.S. Army and began making a difference in the community as an inspirational speaker.

Over the course of the year, Keys successfully completed the Warrior Sailing Program’s rigorous Basic and Advanced Training camps. Upon completion, he demonstrated his newly acquired maritime knowledge and skills and earned a Basic Keelboat Sailing Certification.

“I’ve learned a lot by working with the Warrior Sailing Program, but most importantly, beyond the basic skills of tacking, jibing and all of the great stuff you need to know how to sail, I’ve learned to never give up,” said Keys. “I’ve always had that spirit, but they’ve given me a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. The people that automatically look at me and anybody in a similar situation and say, ‘You can’t sail anymore, you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’ I’ve embraced my situation and overcome barriers and now I get to say, ‘Hey, look what I can do now.’”

Adam Key Sailing
Adam Key Sailing_2
NYC Warrior Sailing

Using sailing as a platform, WSP not only positively impacted Keys' physical and mental health, but also reconnected him with the teamwork and camaraderie previously found in the U.S. Army.

“The most amazing thing that has happened to me during this sailing experience was the amazing people that I have met along the way. I’ve learned a lot from everyone. This experience has opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I know that there is no way they’re going to give up on life and neither will I. I am thankful for the opportunity to be here,” said Keys.  

Taking to the Skies

Butler, a Chester, Maryland, resident sustained severe lower leg injuries in Iraq in 2006 when struck by an IED. Butler, a double amputee, is the recipient of the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Meritorious Service Medal.

Before Butler took to the skies, he first had to complete an at-home King Schools Sport Pilot knowledge course. After months of anticipation, he arrived at Purdue University in May and began his journey to the skies. During the intensive flight training course, Butler spent countless hours in the classroom and nearly 40 hours in the sky as he learned how to fly a light sport airplane. After a demanding six-week program, he confidently passed the written and flight exams, earning his Sport Pilot’s license and call sign. This summer, Butler and his classmates received their wings at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow.

Learning to fly is a demanding endeavor and often times seen as impossible for people with disabilities, but Butler’s fighting spirit enabled him to overcome the challenge while gaining greater self-confidence and self-reliance.

Ferris Butler
Ferris Butler

“Just ten years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed trying to figure out if I was going to amputate my feet or not, never really considering the possibility of walking again, let alone flying,” said Butler. “To take this scholarship and be able to master the art of aviation just goes to show that anything is possible.”

For Butler, learning how to fly was a serendipitous experience that not only changed his life, but also impacted the lives of his family members.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t state how powerful this message is to our family and friends,” said Butler. “They’ve seen us all struggle, and in my instance I’ve been injured for 10 years and it’s incredibly powerful for my parents, siblings and in-laws to see me conquering my dreams and moving forward.”  

“I Am the Master of Fate. I Am the Captain of My Soul.” - William Ernest Henley

Both Keys and Butler plan to continue their pursuit of aviation and sailing excellence, considering their new technical skillsets lifelong hobbies and future professions.

Their message for other injured soldiers is clear: Yes, it happened, but don’t let your injury define you. Do what you dream of doing, always moving forward, and in Keys and Butler’s cases sailing or flying forward.

“I would like to thank everyone at Lockheed Martin, from the CEO, to the people working on the F-35 production line. As a retired military veteran, I would like to thank everyone for reaching out to me in a time of need. The Warrior Sailing Program has been there for me and many others,” Keys concluded.

“Hats off to Lockheed Martin for embracing Able Flight’s mission. I think it is an incredibly powerful message that you are sending to the disabled military servicemen who have come home from combat over the last decade, that you not only support them on the battlefield but that you support them back on our home soil through programs like Able Flight,” said Butler. 

Key and Butler Visit Fort Worth

Learn more about the stories of Capt. Ferris Butler and Staff Sgt. Adam Keys, and how you can support the veteran community: