McConnell Reservist devotes his off time to special medical missions

  • Published
  • By Capt. Emily Alley, Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Maj. Leo Romero, 905th Air Refueling Squadron, Chief of Tactics, is a busy guy. But he makes time to fly special missions, when he can.

“Back in 2016 one of my friends knew someone who had a daughter, she was 11 or 12, with a heart condition,” Romero recalls. “She needed open heart surgery in Denver.”

Medical specialists are often geographically separated from the patients who need them. The drive is often long, isolated, or impractical. In the case of the girl with the heart condition, the doctor recommended against a commercial flight.

Romero agreed to fly the family to the medical appointment.

“Afterward, the dad asked what he owed me. I told him, ‘you’re good, man’.”

The cost of a pilot is one expense, but the flight also includes things like fuel and aircraft availability.

“It’s rewarding,” said Romero. “I’m blessed to have this skillset; I have my own airplane.”

He describes his private twin-engine aircraft as ideal: it’s large enough to comfortably seat six people, with doors that easily allow passengers to board.

Most recently, he flew a young boy with scoliosis to see a specialist for back surgery. The family had room to sit, while the boy lay across the back seats- an option they would not have had while flying commercially.

Romero describes each private philanthropic flight as a “mission.”

That type of logistical thinking also helps him as the Chief of Tactics in Air Force Reserve Command’s first KC-46 squadron. Romero is essentially tasked to write the rule book for tactics on this new aircraft, which is more than just a refueling tanker. He pulls out a set of colored markers from his pocket and draws diagrams on the surface of the table to explain his job.

“You have a takeoff and a landing, but that’s administrative,” explained Romero. “What can we do between those two things? You need perspective that allows you to push how you employ the aircraft.”

He does not, however, plan to include his philanthropic flights on his next Officer Performance Report.

“I think they like to see more tactics stuff,” Romero said.

He also does not plan to join one of the formal charities that volunteer to fly medical patients to appointments. The minimum time commitments are too demanding and do not fit his already-full schedule as both a civilian pilot and Traditional Reservist. However, he’s open to working with charities in the future and mentioned there are similar charities that fly animals. All of the philanthropic flights he’s performed so far have come from word-of-mouth requests through friends.

“Right now, it’s just me,” said Romero. “I feel very fortunate to have a career I’m passionate about and to use that passion to help others.”

The most powerful moment for him was August of 2022, when he landed at a small, rural airport and the entire community had arrived to welcome the sick child back home.

“The whole town came out to this little airport, the whole town was pulling for this kid,” Romero recalled. “The fire department was there. They made signs.”

Similarly, after flying his first patient in 2016, he happened to see the family about a year later at a wedding and they gave him a hug.

“The surgery was successful. It’s pretty rewarding.”

That attitude of service is not unusual for Romero, explained his fellow squadron member, Capt. Aaron Maurer.

“Leo’s always looking out for other people,” said Maurer. “He’s a great guy.”

Romero says that culture of service is what he would expect from anyone in his squadron.