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4th AS adopts children as honorary pilots

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A U.S. Air Force community outreach program continues to provide children facing health difficulties an opportunity to have fun and see firsthand some of the things that Airmen do.

The current Pilot for a Day (PFAD) program at McChord Field on Joint Base Lewis-McChord was created in 2010 as a collaboration between the local Air Force Association (AFA) Chapter 334 PFAD committee and the 4th Airlift Squadron (AS).

“Our goal is to reach out to those children, who are experiencing a less-than-typical childhood due to health issues outside of their control, and create a day where they can set those issues aside and just enjoy being a youngster,” said Robert Branscomb, AFA Pilot for a Day committee retired chair and PFAD program co-founder.

Since the program began in 2010, there have been 24 participants inducted as honorary members into the 4th AS.

“In the 4th, we feel more like family than coworkers and on the special days we host these children, our family grows a little bit and gets a whole lot stronger,” said Col. Sean Burke, 4th AS commander. 

Another goal of the program is to give these children and their families another community to be apart of.

“My family and I flew back from [Washington] D.C. for our first Pilot for a Day participant,” said Brig. Gen. Rodney Lewis, joint staff deputy director for operations, former 4th AS commander, and PFAD program co-founder. “After she passed, we just wanted her family to know that she was a member of our Air Force family.”

Typically, a member of the 4th AS organizes the itinerary and tries to cater it to the child’s interests. Capt. Jeffrey Hill, 4th AS pilot, organized the PFAD for Declan Gaskill, who visited the squadron in May and has a particular interest in trains.

Declan, clad in his new U.S. Air Force flight suit, jacket and cap, was eager to see inside the locomotive as they drove up to the train depot.

“Watching him on the train [was my favorite part of the day],” said Corri Gaskill, Declan’s mother. “It was adorable. He has been a train fanatic forever, so watching him on the train actually getting to do everything and not being stuck with somebody right over top of him and having some free reign was enjoyable.”

In addition to the train depot, Declan’s day’s events also included a military working dog demonstration and tours of the fire department, McChord Field air traffic control tower, a C-17 Globemaster III static display, and a trial in a C-17 flight simulator.

“To see multiple organizations take time out of their day to plan and execute demonstrations for the family is more inspirational and representative of the core values than the demos themselves,” Hill said. “The event also helps strengthen the relationship between JBLM and the AFA, who sponsors the event.”

The AFA and 4th AS plan to continue to grow the program.

“Currently we are hosting one, sometimes two children each year,” Hill said. “Through working with the AFA, we are hoping to expand that number to something closer to one per quarter.”

This program allows a child to be just like everyone else here for day - no matter what they may have going on in life, Corri Gaskill said.

The Pilot for a Day program has existed at McChord for longer than the last 10 years, but not in the capacity that it does now.

“When Robert Branscomb and I talked about revamping the program 10 years ago, it was something we both felt really called to do,” Lewis said. “We have the ability to provide these kids and their families with a memorable day and a new community for them to be a part of … that’s just a small thing we can do to try to brighten their lives a little more.”

To nominate someone who may be eligible to participate in the Pilot for a Day program, please reach out to Jeff Merrit, current PFAD committee chair, at 253-861-3365.