When U.S. Army Capt. Edward “Flip” Klein was struck by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and had both of his legs, his right arm and three fingers blown off, Stamford native Tyler Merritt wasn’t there to rescue his former West Point classmate. But now Merritt’s on a mission to support his friend as he recovers from his horrible injuries.
“He’s a hero,” Merritt said, during a call from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., where he serves as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot with the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. “He’s a company commander, so it’s a big loss.”
Merritt and his wife Angie created an online store named “Team Flip — Never Falter Never Quit,” where people can purchase products with the logo “Team Flip” and the proceeds will go toward offsetting his mounting medical bills.
Klein was on a foot patrol near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, on Oct. 22, when he was the victim of a roadside bomb. Klein’s life will never be the same and he’s endured more than 100 surgeries, with new medical complications each day, Merritt said.
Klein’s wife, Jessica, who left her job in Washington State to be by her husband’s side, said he’s a triple amputee and remains in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She said he’s also missing most of his left hand.
Although Jessica said her husband’s doing well, she’s not sure how long he’ll remain hospitalized and when they’ll return home. She said she never met Merritt before the incident, but appreciates his assistance, along with other groups who have raised money for them.
Merritt and Klein graduated from the U.S. Military Academy of West Point in 2006 and their class motto was, “Never falter, never quit.” Merritt said those words ring true for his friend, who keeps a positive attitude and doesn’t feel like a victim.
Since creating the store two months ago, Merritt has raised more than $3,000 to offset what he calls the “unimaginable costs” associated with the horrific event.
“There’s a lot of unforeseen expenses that the military can’t cover and won’t cover,” Merritt said.
Merritt grew up in Wallacks Point in Stamford and followed his brother, Daniel, into the military after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. After graduation, he attended flight school and is now a special operations helicopter pilot. He’s been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before hearing about his former classmate, Merritt, his brother and his wife were running a promotional company called GIcustom.com. After learning about Klein’s devastating injuries, they reached out to Jessica and created the “Team Flip” store, where they sell products such as hats, mugs and shirts.
Starting “Team Flip” inspired Merritt to go a step further and create the “Nine Line Foundation,” which will continue to sponsor wounded warriors in the future. In combat, a “9 line” represents a desperate call for help, usually associated with a Medevac rescue of a critically wounded service member.
Part of Merritt’s duties are to provide immediate CASEVAC in the event of a 9 line received over the radio. In Klein’s case, the Medevac helicopter that rescued him, along with the medical care received by his combat medic, saved his life, getting him to a military field hospital within 30 minutes of sustaining near-fatal injuries.
Klein has received an outpouring of support and also received visits from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Katy Perry, John Mayer, David Letterman and dozens of senior ranking military officials.
Merritt said they’re going to determine what Klein will need in the future, such as wheelchair ramps at his house, prosthetic limbs or a handicapped accessible vehicle.
“We know that’s one expense he’s going to incur and that will help his quality of life down the road,” he said.
There are dozens of non-profits providing services to injured soldiers, but they aim to focus on the individual, become intimately familiar with their issues and improve their quality of life.
“We’re going to help Flip until we’ve significantly improved his quality of life, and then we’ll move on to our next candidate,” he said.