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4th AS adopts children as honorary pilots

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, operates a railway engine at the JBLM train depot as part of his PFAD itinerary May 21, 2019. The PFAD program is sponsored by the local Air Force Association and aims to gives kids with physical or mental difficulties a day to have fun and see part of what a military member might do in a workday.

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, operates a railway engine at the JBLM train depot as part of his PFAD itinerary May 21, 2019. The PFAD program is sponsored by the local Air Force Association and aims to gives kids with physical or mental difficulties a day to have fun and see part of what a military member might do in a workday. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, talks with Bud Brown, JBLM train depot locomotive engineer, inside a train engine to receive instruction before driving a short distance down some tracks May 21, 2019. Declan had a big interest in trains so the PFAD itinerary organizer reached out to the train depot to see if they could be included in his day to make it extra special.

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, talks with Bud Brown, JBLM train depot locomotive engineer, inside a train engine to receive instruction before driving a short distance down some tracks May 21, 2019. Declan had a big interest in trains so the PFAD itinerary organizer reached out to the train depot to see if they could be included in his day to make it extra special. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

Lt. Colonel Sean Burke, 4th Airlift Squadron commander, gives Noah Markstrom, Team McChord’s newest pilot for a day, a squadron sticker at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 6, 2019. The Pilot for a Day program lets kids with disabilities or illnesses take part in some of Team McChord’s missions.

Lt. Colonel Sean Burke, 4th Airlift Squadron commander, gives Noah Markstrom, Team McChord’s newest pilot for a day, a squadron sticker at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 6, 2019. The Pilot for a Day program lets kids with disabilities or illnesses take part in some of Team McChord’s missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sara Hoerichs)

Noah Markstrom, Team McChord’s newest pilot for a day, rides in a fire truck at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 6, 2019. Along with the fire truck ride, the day included a tour of a C-17 Globemaster III and a chance to get behind the C-17 controls and fly a mission in the simulator building.

Noah Markstrom, Team McChord’s newest pilot for a day, rides in a fire truck at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Sept. 6, 2019. Along with the fire truck ride, the day included a tour of a C-17 Globemaster III and a chance to get behind the C-17 controls and fly a mission in the simulator building. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sara Hoerichs)

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, right, meets a military working dog on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. In addition to a military working dog demonstration, Declan’s PFAD day itinerary also included train station, fire department, and air traffic control tower tours and a try in a C-17 flight simulator.

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, right, meets a military working dog on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. In addition to a military working dog demonstration, Declan’s PFAD day itinerary also included train station, fire department, and air traffic control tower tours and a try in a C-17 flight simulator. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

Senior Airman Brennan Casey, 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, pose with the 4th Airlift Squadron “four” inside a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. When a child participates in the PFAD program, they and their family are inducted as honorary members of the 4th Airlift Squadron.

Senior Airman Brennan Casey, 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, pose with the 4th Airlift Squadron “four” inside a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. When a child participates in the PFAD program, they and their family are inducted as honorary members of the 4th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

Capt. Hatton Updike, 4th Airlift Squadron pilot, tells McKay Neel (back right), McChord’s newest Pilot for a Day participant, and two friends about the features of a C-17 Globemaster III during a McChord Field tour at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 20, 2018. McKay, along with his family and friends, spent the day learning about life at as an Airman and ended it with cake and ice cream at the 4th Airlift Squadron.

Capt. Hatton Updike, 4th Airlift Squadron pilot, tells McKay Neel (back right), McChord’s newest Pilot for a Day participant, and two friends about the features of a C-17 Globemaster III during a McChord Field tour at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 20, 2018. McKay, along with his family and friends, spent the day learning about life at as an Airman and ended it with cake and ice cream at the 4th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tryphena Mayhugh)

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, looks around the flight deck of a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. The PFAD program is run through a partnership with the local Air Force Association chapter and the 4th Airlift Squadron and aims to give kids with mental or physical health issues a day to have fun and see part of what a military member does in a day.

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, looks around the flight deck of a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. The PFAD program is run through a partnership with the local Air Force Association chapter and the 4th Airlift Squadron and aims to give kids with mental or physical health issues a day to have fun and see part of what a military member does in a day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, runs through the cargo bay of a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. Participants of the PFAD program receive a U.S. Air Force pilot’s flight suit along with a jacket and cap, a C-17 small-scale replica, and a photo album to commemorate their day.

Declan Gaskill, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) Pilot for a Day (PFAD) participant, runs through the cargo bay of a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM, Wash., May 21, 2019. Participants of the PFAD program receive a U.S. Air Force pilot’s flight suit along with a jacket and cap, a C-17 small-scale replica, and a photo album to commemorate their day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

McKay Neel (third from left), McChord’s newest Pilot for a Day participant, and two friends take a photo with Blitz, Seattle Seahawks mascot, during a tour of McChord Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 20, 2018. McKay was joined on his tour by his parents, two friends, their dad and 4th Airlift Squadron personnel.
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McKay Neel (third from left), McChord’s newest Pilot for a Day participant, and two friends take a photo with Blitz, Seattle Seahawks mascot, during a tour of McChord Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 20, 2018. McKay was joined on his tour by his parents, two friends, their dad and 4th Airlift Squadron personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tryphena Mayhugh)

The "Pilot 4 a Day" wall in the 4th Airlift Squadron on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., displays past Pilot for a day program participants. This wall showcases particpants starting from 2010 when the program was revamped by the Air Force Association and the 4th Airlift Squadron.
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The "Pilot 4 a Day" wall in the 4th Airlift Squadron on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., displays past Pilot for a day program participants. This wall showcases particpants starting from 2010 when the program was revamped by the Air Force Association and the 4th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

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.