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).
Kayla taking the left seat in a C-40 while talking to one of my old JSTARS buddies Capt Jason O’Brien, who now flies with the 201st.
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 VERYhonored 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!
Well here it is, my very first Charlottesville gig and what an awesome way to get started in a new town!
I met Mayank Gala (pictured middle) on my way out of town after an apartment search in August while I was still working for Booz Allen. Mayank and his wife Sejal were at a Chick-fil-A where they had set up a booth and were spreading fliers to recruit people for their fundraising event and foundation. After a quick bite (I have a bad weakness for Chick-fil-A), I approached Mayank and Sejal and talked to them a bit about the volunteer work I’ve done for Starlight MidAtlantic and the Pilot For a Day Program and offered my services to them.
Mayank and Sejal are the founders of IshanGala.org, which is an amazing organization very near and dear to their hearts. At 18 months old, Mayank and Sejal lost their only son Ishan to neuroblastoma cancer and have been fighting to raise awareness and funding to support childhood cancer researchever since. After being founded in January of 2009, the organization has grown at an amazing pace.
The images here are of their first large scale fundraiser called Splash For A Cure. This event managed to bring in just under $40,000, not to mention an enormous amount of attention for their cause! Local newspapers along with radio and television stations stopped by during the event for interviews throughout the day. After spending the afternoon with Mayank and Sejal and all the volunteers, I’m positive that the Ishan Gala Foundation is going to go VERY far!
All of the volunteers were so gracious to me and Amy, and were readily available to help us out in any way that they could.
An awesome local musician named Alex Mejias donated his time and started his set right at sunset. Alex and his band put on a great show and I’ll be sure to keep my ear to the ground to see when they’re playing again.
And of course we can’t forget all the great kids that were on hand. The ACAC Water Park which hosted the event is really cool and all the children there were having a blast. I am definitely going to drag Amy out there one afternoon before they close down for the fall!
Most of the kids weren’t noticing where I was or just didn’t care, all of ‘em execpt this little guy!
Amy also came along with me to man a family photo station we set up at the corner of the pool, which was a pretty big hit. We kept things real simple and used a single one of our Alien Bees 1600s and a43″ white shoot through umbrella. The sun behind the families created a nice rim light all day and the only thing we had to do was keep the shutter up with the fading ambient light as the sun set.
A great time was had by all…not to mention what a great success the day was for Mayank and Sejal and their foundation!
Amy and I want to send a BIG THANK YOU out to Mayank and Sejal for inviting us out for the day and we’re very much looking forward to their next event!
And finally, I am offering 25% off my family and portrait packages as a special introductory offer to all the residents of Charlottesville throughout the month of September! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested or just help me spread the word!
I posted a new gallery last night of an organization I am a part of called the River Rats, who are a collection of Vietnam pilots that do some tremendously great work for both active duty and retired soldiers. Their primary mission is to take care of flyer’s who die in the line of duty, but recently they have branched off to take care of any soldier who reaches out to them with a good cause.
I fit into the fray ever since they came to the realization that their ranks are slowly diminishing since there are only so many people who served in ‘Nam. I was recruited about a year ago after the organization came open to all flyer’s, and not just ones that flew over South East Asia. Now a year later, their ranks are open to anyone willing to put in the time to volunteer and who have the “Rat” mentality.
They are truly a great group and if you’re like me and enjoy listening to Vets and their wild stories, you’d fit right in with these guys (and gals now).
We got together last week to discuss fund raising and our latest volunteer event coming up August 9th at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where we will be hosting a lunch in for 300 something wounded soldiers. The last event they had there was my inauguration into the chapter and I had a great time, aside from being one of the youngest guys there and by default forced to lug a majority of the heavy furniture (I’m not forgetting about you either Scroll!),
I’m looking forward to capturing some more of our get togethers and I’ll be sure to spread the word about what our DC chapter is up to.