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Brothers with cystic fibrosis enjoy being ‘Pilots for a Day’

Published: 04:30PM March 29th, 2012
Brothers with cystic fibrosis enjoy being ‘Pilots for a Day’

Airman 1st Class Leah Young

Senior Airman Jordan Rayman gives Jeremiah Pancake a tour of a C-17.

As they climbed aboard a C-17 Globemaster III for the first time, two local brothers could hardly hold back their excitement.

The brothers from Centralia are battling cystic fibrosis and recently had an opportunity to step in the shoes of an Airman and become a part of Team McChord when they visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord as part of the Pilot for a Day program.

Jeremiah Pancake, 9, and his brother, 6-year-old Caleb, were hosted by the 62nd Airlift Wing’s 4th Airlift Squadron. The purpose of the program is to devote an entire day for local children with serious or chronic conditions to experience the Air Force firsthand. Participants are usually selected through a partnership with a community hospital or foster program.

“We are privileged to host these children and we hope to create a day filled with fun and enjoyment,” Tech. Sgt. Mark Hafer, 4th AS loadmaster and Pilot for a Day coordinator, said prior to the day’s events.

During the visit, Jeremiah and Caleb, along with family members, were able to watch a military working dog demonstration by the 627th Security Forces Squadron, interact with the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal unit, visit McChord Field’s air traffic control tower, eat lunch with the 4th AS and get an up-close look at a C-17 Globemaster III.

“This was such an amazing opportunity for the boys,” Charity Pancake, mother of Jeremiah and Caleb, said. “They get more and more excited with each event. It feels good to be able to give them something a little extra.”

Other highlights of the fun-filled day included “flying” in a C-17 aircraft simulator and being strapped on a virtual reality parachute simulator, where they practiced “parachuting” in different environments.

“They were definitely the most excited for the simulator,” Charity said. “They keep calling it the best video game ever.”

After the C-17 aircraft simulator, Jeremiah and Caleb accompanied their family and Pilot for a Day team members to dinner with new flight suits on their backs, squadron coins in their pockets and lasting smiles on their faces.

“I want to do this again tomorrow,” Caleb said at the end of the day.

The original “Pilot for a Day” program began in December 1994 and was organized by Capt. Rory “Ox” Blackburn at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The concept has since spread to several bases across the country, including the 62nd AW at JBLM.