As many of you may or may not know, I am a Reservist in the US Air Force.
This entails attending a drill session one weekend a month, for the entire year. It’s great being back in uniform and I can’t say enough good things about the Reserves so far. Unlike active duty, they are VERY attentive to my interests and have gone out of their way to get me into a new career field, which I will hoepfully start in January.
Over drill weekends we (Traditional Reservists) primarily play catch up to the full time Reservists and GS employees who work a standard work week. As a Reservist, I am assigned to the Wing Public Affairs (PA) shop where…you guessed it, I take pictures!
In August, while I was still working as a contractor, I got a call from our full time employee who runs the PA shop during the week asking if I could come in on a Thursday to cover the Pilot For a Day program. The program is designed to bring cheer and hope to children suffering from medical ailments by allowing them to be our guest at Andrews AFB. The kids get to visit all types of military aircraft, simulators, fire hall, security forces, military working dogs, and a final stop at the control tower. After getting the quick rundown on this program I immediately jumped at the opportunity and used one of my last vacation days at Booz Allen.
The “Pilot For a Day” pictured above is 10-year-old Kayla Kiley from Waldorf, MD who is currently battling cancer for the second time around. Kayla and a big group of her family members were treated like royalty for a day by a large team of volunteers led by Major Susanne Schulz, who is a pilot with the 201st Airlift Squadron. I can’t even begin to describe all the hard work and preparation these volunteers put into this incredible program. It’s a worthy undertaking, and I am hoping that these pictures and this blog posting give you a small taste of what they do.
The day started with Kayla being sworn in as a pilot by our 459th Operations Group Commander Col Muncy. With the whole room standing at attention, Kayla was grinning ear to ear when she realized that we meant business! Pictured right, Kayla heads over to the 113th Wing where they literally rolled out the red carpet for her!
Kayla is standing alongside Maj Schulz while she introduces her family.
One of the coolest parts about this day is that literally everyone at Andrews pitches in to help out. Here, Kayla is meeting with one of the maintanance Chiefs from VAQ-209 which operates the EA-6B Prowler.
Pictured left, Kayla steps down from a F-16 which had her name in pink vinyl letters right underneath the canopy. To the right, Kayla takes a moment to relax in a KC-135 engine with Major Kara Sandifur, a pilot with the 459th (my Wing).
I really like this cool (in terms of color), moody shot of Kayla and her friends walking to the KC-135 set up to host her and the rest of her family for lunch. A couple of the local area restaurants donated a huge pile of food for Kayla and the rest of the volunteers.
This was a really incredible experience to be a part of and I was VERY honored when Major Schulz asked me to be their official photographer from here on out! The Pilot For a Day program is just getting spooled up and pretty soon we’re going to start reaching out for more support to see how far we can make this thing go!!!
The next Pilot For a Day is on 15 October 2009 where we’ll be hosting Jay Carr, who’s fighting leukemia. I am especially stoked to meet Jay since he aspires to become a photographer when he grows up. I have a ton of cool stuff planned for Jay and can’t wait to meet him next month!