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Army officers’ son spoiled by Air Force as ‘Pilot for a Day’

Published: 11:02AM January 10th, 2013

Staff Sgt. Jason Truskowski

Tommy McGraw sits in the cockpit of a C-17 flight simulator Dec. 17 on JBLM McChord Field. The simulator was one of eight places that Tommy and his family toured as part of the Pilot for a Day program.

Tommy McGraw, an 8-year-old “Army brat” from University Place, who is currently recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumor, got the opportunity to tour McChord Field Dec. 17, 2012, as a participant in the Pilot for a Day program.

The program, run by the 4th Airlift Squadron, gives local children with serious illnesses a day completely devoted to them and their interest in aviation.

“The Pilot for a Day program is something we all love,” said Lt. Col. T.J. O’Connell, 4th AS commander. “It a great opportunity to give the children a fun-filled day with some unique experiences, and give them a much needed break.”

Fitted with his own flight suit, complete with official patches, nametag and ascot, Tommy was treated to a host of hands-on activities and demonstrations around base. Maj. Michael Masuda, 313th Airlift Squadron pilot, guided Tommy through his adventures.

Tommy’s Army parents, Lt. Col. Joe McGraw, commander of 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, and Lt. Col. Leigh McGraw, chief of consolidated education at Madigan Army Medical Center, also joined in on the tour.

After getting suited up, Tommy’s first activity was to guide a remotely controlled bomb disposal robot, provided by the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron’s explosive ordnance disposal team. The EOD team also showed Tommy various weapons and explosives that are often recovered by EOD teams.

From there, they headed over to the 627th Security Forces Squadron military working dog kennels, where the family had a chance to see how the dogs are trained to help take hostile suspects into custody. After seeing the dogs in action, the crew headed over to the 10th AS building where Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialists gave Tommy a parachute demonstration. The SERE team hooked him into a parachute simulator complete with a helmet fitted with virtual reality glasses. Tommy made two virtual jumps, one onto an aircraft carrier at sea and one into a jungle.

Tommy nailed the drop zones on both jumps.

Once his 4,000-foot jumps were completed, Tommy and his parents headed to the control tower for a bird’s-eye view of the airfield.

From there, the group headed to the Heritage Room at the 4th AS building for pizza and sodas.

During lunch, Tommy’s parents reflected on having the opportunity to spend quality time with their son, and watching him take part in such unique experiences.

“This is almost as beneficial for my husband and me as it is for Tommy,” said Tommy’s mother. “It’s important that we spend quality time together when we can because there are so many unknowns. On top of everything else, his father is deploying next year.”

After lunch, Tommy received an intelligence briefing detailing his “Operation U-Place XMAS” mission.

Flying in the C-17 flight simulator under the call sign “Shadow,” Tommy’s mission was to help Santa defeat the Grinch and airdrop gifts to his neighbors in University Place.

Tommy’s day at McChord Field culminated in mission success.

The 4th AS runs the Pilot for a Day program, which is sponsored in part by the Air Force Association. Anyone wishing to nominate a candidate for the program should contact Robert Branscomb, AFA vice president of the Community Partnership Program, at (800) 209-6845.