Toni Brooke Merkey, daughter of Brad Merkey and Linda Merkey of Sugarloaf Key, received her Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi after interning at Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston, Wyo.
Toni was a 2001 graduate of Key West High School.
Thanks to the Veterans Airlift Command and its national network of volunteer pilots and aircraft owners, which includes Andre Bohy of Big Pine Key, wounded military personnel, veterans and family who cannot travel long distances on their own are able to be airlifted free-of-charge for medical care or to be reunited with family and friends at significant life events.
Benefitting from this service, thanks to Bohy, were 43-year-old Sergeant First Charles (Greg) Williams and his wife Giovanna. Williams was injured in 2006 while deployed in Afghanistan. His unit was ambushed and three rocket-propelled grenades struck his vehicle. During the second blast the weapon hit a box of 50-caliber ammunition and exploded two feet from Greg's head.
While his three other comrades in his Humvee suffered only minor injuries, Greg sustained traumatic brain injury and now suffers from hemiplegic migraines plus post traumatic stress disorder, balance issues and double vision.
In April of this year, Veterans Airlift Command was able to fly Greg to Athens, Ga. to spend the last hours with his dying father.
Greg and Giovanna's home in Louisiana, however, had also just been flooded in a storm and the couple was not able to see as much as they wanted of their 3 ¬½-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, who has Down syndrome. Rebecca was experiencing significant developmental issues and Greg and his wife felt they needed to spend some one-on-one time with her. "She just lights up when she sees us," says Giovanna.
Andre Bohy, president of Omni Financial, who winters in Big Pine Key and flies out of the Danbury, Conn. on business, volunteered his time and personal plane -- with Omni paying for the fuel -- to make a visit with the granddaughter possible.
On Sept. 19, Andre met and flew Greg and Giovanna on the outbound flight from Leesville Municipal Airport in Louisiana to Ben Epps Airport in Georgia to spend a week with Rebecca.
On Sept. 27, Greg and his wife were flown back home to Leesville by a different Veterans Airlift Command pilot to complete the round-trip mission.
The Florida Keys Outreach Coalition commemorated September as National Recovery Month by presenting the Anchors Aweigh Club with its Community Partner Award in appreciation for providing a gathering place where residents and visitors can turn for help, support and safety as they recover from alcohol and substance abuse. Pictured are FKOC Chairman Sam Kaufman; Club House Manager Judy Blumenkranz and FKOC President and CEO, Rev. Stephen Braddock.