SIOUX CENTER, Iowa (KCAU) — Aaron Van Beek is a third-grade teacher by day and a volunteer for the Honor Flight by night and weekends but he’s not just helping out, he’s leading the mission.
Van Beek teaches at Kinsey Elementary School in Sioux Center but he’s also the President and Director of the Midwest Honor Flight.
Van Beek is the youngest in the country with the title.
“I actually reached out to the national group and the first thing I said was, ‘Is being 20 years old, is that too young to do this?’ And they said, ‘No, it’s just the youngest we’ve ever had,'” Van Beek said. “So we got signed up. Now we cover the state of South Dakota, Northwest Iowa, and Southwest Minnesota.”
Van Beek has been at the helm since 2017.
“To date, we’ve flown 528 veterans, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam over 6 different flights,” Van Beek said.
Each flight takes an army of donors and volunteers to get off the ground.
“For one day, to send 84 veterans, it costs $150,000. So that funding is a huge piece of what makes Honor Flight work. Thankfully we’ve had donations from businesses, organizations, families, sponsors. We do some fundraising on our own,” explained Van Beek.
They’ve even partnered with the Sioux City Musketeers for their Military Appreciation Night, raising a record $55,000 a few weeks ago through the jersey auction.
“We’re 100% volunteer. So any of the time our board of volunteers spend on this, it’s all after hours but it’s well worth it so that all of that money we receive, that we fundraise goes directly towards these flights and honoring our veterans,” Van Beek said.
After all, that’s what Van Beek said the day is all about.
“Early in the morning, we charter a plane out of Sioux Falls, directly to Washington D.C. Spend about 10 hours there. These guys they get to see just about everything there possibly is to see. Between the memorials, Arlington, the monuments that are out there, too,” said Van Beek.
Unlike many directors who head up a regional Honor Flight program, Van Beek himself never served, but his family is no stranger to the military.
“Three of my great grandpa’s all served in WWII, two in the Army and one in the Army Air Corps. And unfortunately, none of them actually got to go and see their memorial. In fact, two of them passed there was even talk of a memorial and then one passed away about a year before the actual dedication,” Van Beek said.
Van Beek said volunteering is his way to show his appreciate for the sacrifice all veterans have made.
“I love teaching, I love what I do. Teaching pays the bills, and Honor Flight I get to volunteer for. It’s just as rewarding as teaching,” he said. “The fun part is, I get to incorporate some of the Honor Flight into school. So with the social studies unit, we spend time talking about veterans, all the different wars we’ve been a part of. We actually spend some time and write letters to veterans.”
Van Beek said roughly 800 veterans in the region are on the wait list to go once flights can resume, and he has no plans of stopping his work with the organization.
“All of the stories I hear, all of the letters, all the cards that we receive as an organization after the flight, that’s what keeps it going. That’s what keeps my tears flowing as I go back through and read them, too, because it’s just as emotional for us as a board, seeing that this means so much,” Van Beek said. “I might even start tearing up now! It means so much to these men and women to give their lives to the freedoms we have and even to those around the world.”