By Staff Sgt. Jason Truskowski , 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 23, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Most 16-year old boys wish for their driver's license, their first date or making the sports team. For one 16-year old boy, his dream has always been to pilot an aircraft.
The McChord Air Force Association, joined forces with Joint Base Lewis-McChord Airmen and soldiers, Aug. 22, to help make that wish come true. Christian Ball, from Spanaway, Wash. was the honored guest at the Pilot for a Day program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The Pilot for a Day program, which has been hosted by the 4th Airlift Squadron for three years, provides youth with a limiting disability the opportunity to live out their life-long dreams of aviation and share those memorable experiences with their family and close friends right by their side.
"I am so glad that we could give Christian a special day," said Capt. Marc Meier, 4th AS assistant support flight commander. "Being able to help make his dreams come true is really a humbling experience."
Christian's thirst for aviation began 5-years ago when his grandmother, Cathy Ball took him to visit the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Wash. It was then that Christian had the opportunity to sit in a flight simulator and in that moment, his love for flying was born.
"The moment he stepped out of the flight simulator at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, I instantly knew he was hooked," said Cathy. "He has had such a passion for aviation ever since that day."
Christian's grandmother, Cathy and close family friend Bill Britt accompanied him on this memorable day.
"This wish started with me trying to get Christian on a tour of a C-17 before he goes completely blind," said Bill. "It's amazing to see so many people coming together to help make this happen. All I did was request a tour and look what happened."
Their journey started bright and early at CoinForce.com, LLC, just outside of McChord Field, where Christian received a flight suit, patches and flight cap with first lieutenant rank insignia. Donna and Jordan Haines, Owners of CoinForce.com, LLC presented Christian with a check made out to Graham Emanuel Baptist Church, the charity of Christian's choice, for $444.44.The dollar amount of the check represents the bond that the agency has with the 4th AS and the Pilot for a Day program.
"I was in the military for 22 years," said Donna. "For us to be a part of this program truly is an honor."
Departing from there, Christian, Kathy and Bill were shuttled to the parking lot of the McChord Club where soldiers from Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 423rd Infantry, 2nd Stryker Brigade combat team were waiting.
The soldiers gave Christian a tour of the Stryker, let him control the turret, and presented him with a memento of their battalion's crest and sergeant first class insignia, which were pinned to his flight suit. Christian, Kathy and Bill rode in the Stryker to each of the remaining stops on the tour.
This was the first time the Army or a Stryker had ever been used for Pilot for a Day at McChord Field.
Arriving at McChord Field's air park, Christian stepped out of the Stryker into an Explosives Ordinance Disposal team display. He was shown numerous versions of the explosives that military personnel encounter while in deployed locations. He was given the opportunity to drive the ordinance disposal robot from the Off-base/On-base Response Vehicle and using onboard cameras, he was able to pick up a mock hang grenade.
"The Pilot for a Day is an incredible program that helps children on so many levels," said Senior Airman Christopher Benefield, 627th Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician. "I really enjoy working with this program and being able to give back to the community."
What 16-year old wouldn't want to watch military working dogs attack a mock assailant? That is exactly what Christian got to see at his next stop, where military working dogs ran the obstacle course and attacked Christopher Crawford, a Department of the Army police officer.
After, McChord Field's control tower provided a panoramic view from the top of one of McChord Field's tallest buildings. Christian had the opportunity to watch CV-22 Osprey aircraft landing, and was also able to watch aircraft movements on radar.
Within walking distance of the control tower is McChord Field's fire department. "Fire Chief Christian Ball has arrived," bellowed from the fire departments speaker system as Christian walked into the main lobby area. Christian was presented with the honorary fire chief's white helmet, which he wore while getting suited up in a full fire fighter ensemble.
"I was really honored they made me the fire chief for the day," said Christian. "This has been an amazing experience so far and it just started."
Christian and his guests received a warm welcome from crewmembers of the 4th AS upon entering the squadron's heritage room for a pizza-party luncheon. They spent lunch-time getting to know the people that helped make the Pilot for a Day program possible for Christian.
Before any pilot flies a mission they receive a mission brief, spelling out the intricate details of their unique assignment. Before heading out on the flightline for a hands-on tour of a C-17, Christian heard intelligence and tactics information on the simulated mission he would fly later in the day.
Climbing back into the Stryker, Christian and his entourage drove out to the flightline for a tour of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. With flight controls in hand, Christian sat in the pilot's seat looking out the windows at the aircraft parked in front of him. This was his first taste of what it truly felt like to be in the hot seat of a military aircraft.
"I've never seen an aircraft like this in my life," said Christian. "It's incredible, really incredible, to sit in the pilot's seat and to walk around the cargo area."
After getting a feel for what it was like to walk in the shoes of aircrew members aboard a C-17, Christian headed to the C-17 simulator building where he and Bill partnered up with Capt. Mike Knapp, 4th AS awards and decorations officer, where they took a simulated flight around the local community. Christian performed 2 touch-and-goes and landed successfully on his last attempt.
"It was a privilege to fly with Christian in the simulator today," said Knapp. "Christian took off, landed, performed air-refueling, and even accomplished an airdrop. He completed the mission we briefed him on earlier in the day."
Christian's day ended back at the 4th AS where he was given a proper "Fly, Fight, Live Proud!" send-off by Col. Jeffery Philippart, 62nd Airlift Wing vice commander, and aircrew members. He was given a model C-17 and a 4th AS coin to help him remember the day he became a Pilot for a Day with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
"Pilot for a Day presents a unique opportunity to share the many aspects of our mission," said Philippart. "It was a great opportunity to make a difference in this young man's life."
The most memorable moment for Christian during his Pilot for a Day was flying with Knapp in the C-17 flight simulator.
"Overall, today was a little overwhelming, but in a good way," said Christian. "I have never had this much attention in my entire life. Thank you."
Cathy would like to leave a message for the members of Team McChord and to the soldiers from Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 423rd Infantry, 2nd Stryker Brigade combat team who joined them on their tour today.
"This was a blessing and truly a-dream-come true for Christian. The overall experience was an enlightening one. Christian, Bill and I have learned so much about Joint Base Lewis-McChord and what you actually do behind the wire. It's nice to see that the military does more than just go to war. I had no idea you were all so family oriented and community minded. Thank you."
"This program is something that the AFA hopes to be able to continue for many years to come, said Robert Branscomb, Pilot for a Day McChord chair member. "This program really wouldn't be possible without fundraising and the generous support of our local community sponsors."