Outside The Gates: Palmer veteran becomes first in Alaska to receive a ramp from Ohio nonprofit

Operation Ramp It Up has put ramps in 42 states
Operation Ramp It Up has put ramps in 42 states
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 5:43 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s easy to see Frank Bird has an appreciation for art. The walls of his house proudly display his extensive collection — but perhaps what Bird appreciates more than art is the time he spent serving our country.

“I love my job,” Bird said. “I would still be in if I could.”

Bird has 44 years of federal service; 22 in the military and another 22 as a civilian. The Air Force veteran is a survivor in more ways than one. Between colon cancer, a heart attack, and a bad car accident, he’s now on borrowed time with his foot.

“They said ‘if we can’t stop it, a year to 18 months amputation,’” Bird recalled. “And they said five to eight years with the brace on. It’s been about eight years.”

Bird suffers from a condition that causes his bones to rub together, eventually leading them to dissolve or break. The brace he was given was not a cure, but a prevention method.

Bird has never asked for much in his life. When CEO of Operation Ramp It Up Greg Schneider heard Frank’s story, he decided he was coming to Alaska — and not empty-handed.

“I got ahold of Frank, talked to him, and said ‘hey this is what we’d like to do, are you okay if we come and measure, do an evaluation on your home, see what you need and I will supply (the ramp) from Kentucky or Ohio area. I’ll have it sent there and we’ll make it happen. We’ll get you a ramp,’” Schneider said.

Schneider founded Operation Ramp It Up in 2014. The nonprofit installs ramps for people in need of mobility assistance. The organization started off as a way to help veterans, but Schneider eventually started helping anyone that needed it.

The 42-year UPS driver in Cincinnati started volunteering eight years ago as a way to give back to his community. After helping on a build for a deceased veteran’s wife, he realized there was more he could do.

Schneider made it a goal of Operation Ramp It Up to install ramps in all 50 states, and on June 21, Alaska became the 42nd. After the installation was completed, Bird was presented with a painted flag from Flags of Valor — a gesture that brought tears to his eyes.

“That was very emotional for me,” Bird said. “I’ve been a person that I’ve had to fight for everything I’ve done or got, and that was the first time anybody’s done anything for me like that.”

Schneider admitted that he got choked up as well.

“Not only is it emotional for the veteran, or the recipient of the ramp, it’s very emotional for myself and the volunteers because you just witnessed an impact you’ve made on somebody’s life,” Schneider said.

Schneider said that once a ramp is installed, it’s the recipient’s to keep for life. However, he does ask that if they move or no longer need it for any reason that they consider donating it back to the nonprofit to be used elsewhere. Bird agreed that he’d return it to the organization under one condition — that it be given to another Alaskan veteran — who, like him, might need it one day.

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