February 2, 2024 : By Ted Allen - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
On Jan. 13, a Samaritan’s Purse 757 aircraft flew from its base in Greensboro, N.C., to Tel Aviv, Israel, with a mission to aid the victims of the horrendous Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. The cargo was 1,000 advanced trauma life support kits, each containing more than 70 medical items, including a tourniquet and chest tube, suture, and intubation kits, and distributed to first responders in outlying areas to help them provide emergency care.
The flight was captained by Reed Potecha, an adjunct professor in the Liberty University School of Aeronautics.
“For me, having done what I’ve done my entire career, flying all over the world, this was unique in multiple ways — from where we went, to when we went,” Potecha said. “To bring something of such value was such a privilege.”
The return trip from Israel in mid-January included flying across Africa to the West Coast of Liberia to deliver helicopter blades to the Samaritan’s Purse office, which utilizes a helicopter to reach remote projects.
Much detail and flight planning was completed in order to fly such a long route to Israel and then Liberia before returning to the United States. The day after Potecha returned from Tel Aviv, he was greeted by Samaritan’s Purse President and CEO Franklin Graham.
“Flying for Franklin Graham is an incredible honor,” Potecha said. “I have been flying for 43 years, and I have been wanting to give back and utilize the gifts I had been given to serve Christ full time, not to just make it a tent-making opportunity. God opened the door with Samaritan’s Purse and I was able to step through it, and I feel very privileged and honored.”
Potecha joined the organization’s aviation ministry in May. Since then, he has also flown two trips to Mexico delivering aid to Hurricane Otis survivors. In Acapulco, Mexico, relief items such as water filters, buckets, tarps, hygiene kits, and solar lights that were airlifted to the country have been distributed to families in need and nearly 800 volunteers have tarped over 160 homes to date. Samaritan’s Purse is establishing 14 water systems there that have produced over 800,000 liters of clean drinking water and has distributed over 200,000 pounds of food. Potecha has also flown to Maui, Hawaii, with Samaritan’s Purse after the devastating wildfire in August.
Potecha retired in 2003 as a lieutenant commander after a 20-year career in the United States Navy that included deployments on the U.S. Eisenhower and U.S. Ranger aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea and off the coast of Southeast Asia. He also served as a pilot for UPS Airlines for 33 years, flying the DC-8, MD-11, and Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft out of Philadelphia and later Louisville, Ky.
Potecha has served as an adjunct professor since 2011 and currently teaches courses in aeronautics through the online program. Liberty offers B.S. in Aviation and B.S. in Aviation Management, M.S. in Aeronautics, M.S. in Aeronautics: Aviation Education, M.S. in Aeronautics: Aviation Leadership, and M.S. in Aeronautics: Aviation Safety, and Ph.D. in Aviation degrees online.
He said he was encouraged to apply at Liberty by U.S. Navy Capt. (Ret.) Ernie Rogers, then an associate dean of the School of Aeronautics, while visiting campus with his children and recognizing Rogers as he spoke at a New Parents’ Orientation. (Potecha’s three children all attended Liberty.)
“I got my wings as a Navy pilot, and it turns out he (Rogers) was one of my flight instructors when I was in the Navy in 1980,” Potecha said.
Jim Molloy, who Potecha has met a few times when he was dean of Liberty’s School of Aeronautics, now serves as chief pilot for Samaritan’s Purse in Kenya and Uganda and oversees the organization’s mission work in East Africa.
Potecha said Liberty’s School of Aeronautics has numerous professors who bring excellent experience in from their fields.
“Many instructors at universities have never done the job (in the field they are teaching), but Liberty really has a good cadre of instructors who have been in the industry, serving as airline, military, or missionary pilots, who have done it and are now teaching it,” he said. “In aviation, it is really good to have people who have actually done the job., and I’ve got all three aspects now, with 20 years in the Navy as a military pilot, 33 years as an airline pilot, and now as a missionary pilot. This is a phenomenal opportunity for me and gives me a chance to connect with my students. I have students in all three tracks — commercial, military, and missionary — who want to go into all of those fields.”