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Airmen help Spanaway teen live his dream

62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 01:09PM August 29th, 2013

Staff Sgt. Jason Truskowski

Capt. Mike Knapp shows Pilot for a Day recipient Christian Ball what some of the buttons do on the flight deck of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft Aug. 22.

Almost every 16-year-old boy wishes for his driver’s license, his first date or his varsity jersey. 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, was the honored guest at the Pilot for a Day program at JBLM.

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 lifelong dreams of aviation and share those memorable experiences with family and close friends.

“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 has a progressive condition that will take his sight. His thirst for aviation began five years ago when his grandmother, Cathy Ball, took him to visit the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. He sat in a flight simulator and at that instant, 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,” his grandmother said. “He has had such a passion for aviation ever since that day.”

Cathy Ball and family friend, Bill Britt, accompanied him on his 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 early at outside of McChord Field, where Christian received a flight suit, patches and flight cap with first lieutenant rank insignia. Owners Donna and Jordan Haines presented Christian with a check made out to Graham Emanuel Baptist Church, the charity of Christian’s choice.

“I was in the military for 22 years,” Donna said. “For us to be a part of this program truly is an honor.”

Christian, his friend and grandmother were shuttled to the parking lot of the McChord Club and Community Center, where Soldiers from Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were waiting.

The Soldiers gave Christian a tour of the Stryker vehicle, 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. The three rode the Stryker to each of the remaining stops on the tour, the first time the Army’s tactical workhorse vehicle had been used for the McChord Field Pilot for a Day program.

At McChord Field’s air park, Christian stepped out of the Stryker into an Explosives Ordnance Disposal team display.

“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.”

Christian next watched military working dogs attack a mock assailant, ran the obstacle course and attacked a Department of the Army police officer.

The McChord Field control tower provided a panoramic view from the top of one of McChord Field’s tallest buildings. Christian watched a CV-22 Osprey aircraft landing. They walked from the control tower to the McChord Field Fire Department.

“Fire Chief Christian Ball has arrived,” bellowed from the fire departments speaker system as Christian walked into the main lobby area.

“I was really honored they made me the fire chief for the day,” Christian said.

After a tour and pizza lunch in the 4th AS’s heritage room, he received his mission brief and headed to the flightline for a tour of a C-17 Glovemaster III aircraft, where he received intelligence and tactics information for the simulated mission he would fly later in the day.

The flightline tour allowed him to handle the controls, sit in the pilot’s seat looking at the aircraft parked in front of him — his first taste of what it truly felt like to be in the pilot’s seat of a military aircraft.

“I’ve never seen an aircraft like this in my life,” Christian said.

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 received a model C-17 and a 4th AS coin to commemorate the day.

“Pilot for a Day presents a unique opportunity to share the many aspects of our mission,” Philippart said. “It was a great opportunity to make a difference in this young man’s life.”

Christian said his most memorable moment was flying in the C-17 flight simulator.

“Overall, today was a little overwhelming, but in a good way,” Christian said. “I have never had this much attention in my entire life. Thank you.”

“This was a blessing and truly a dream-come-true for Christian.”

“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.”