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Youngest C-17 pilot joins 4th Airlft Squadron

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ali Kojak
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Kaylie Bergen, a 6-year-old from Federal Way, Wash., battling cancer, toured the base Tuesday as this month's participant in the Pilot for a Day Program.

The purpose of the program is to give local children with serious illnesses a day completely devoted to them and their interest in aviation.

The night before Kaylie's tour, she and her family met members of the 4th Airlift Squadron for some pre-mission crew rest downtime. Col. Rod Lewis, 4th AS commander, along with Capts. Leroy Cohen, Bert King and 1st. Lt. Ellie Morgan, shared dinner with the family and presented Kaylie with a helmet bag full of her own gear. The squadron outfitted their newest pilot with a flight suit, scarf, nametag and official patches.

The following morning, the entire crew regrouped at the Visitor's Center. Kaylie brought along her mother, Christy, father, Russ, brother, Dylan, and both sets of grandparents.

The crew then took Kaylie out to meet some Explosive Ordinance Disposal team members, where Kaylie and her family learned about the capabilities of the protective bomb suit and robot, as well as witnessing a detonation firsthand.

From there the crew headed over to the 62nd Airlift Wing Security Forces Squadron military working dog kennels, where the family had a chance to interact with the canines, and observe a dog working though the training obstacle course.

After finishing up with the working dogs, the newest 4th AS pilot had lunch with the Air Force Association at the Combined Club. The Air Force Association is sponsoring the Pilot for a Day program, and the family was introduced and honored during lunch.

At the next stop, Kaylie had a chance to watch a C-17 perform a touch-and-go as part of a local training mission, before sitting in the pilot's seat of a real C-17 aircraft on static display. The static display was a huge hit with the young aviator, and her family conveyed appreciation for the efforts of the crew.

"It's hard to say how much this means," said Christy Bergen, Kaylie's mom. "We've been trying to give Kaylie some of the best experiences we can and make her day as fun as possible and this is just amazing. This is great, and is what every parent wants to do for their child."

From there, the group headed back to the squadron for an intelligence and mission brief. The Fire Department team also came by with Sparky the Fire Dog, and one member dressed in full gear. The squadron briefings were designed to prepare Kaylie for her upcoming flight.

As a finale to an already incredible day, Kaylie had the chance to pilot a C-17 on her own - courtesy of the C-17 Boeing simulator. With Capt. Timothy Rawson as her co-pilot, she was able to fly around Mount Rainier and make an attempt to navigate under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The crew was excited to watch their newest member step up to the challenge.

"First and foremost, it was an awesome way to give back to the community," said Lieutenant Morgan. "It's an honor to be able to help families in tough situations. Also, when I look back on my childhood I remember all the people and experiences that shaped me into who and where I am . . . and It's nice to be on the other side of things."

The 4th AS has recently taken over the Pilot for a Day program at McChord Field. Their goal is to host a new "pilot" each month.