Pilots help young friends soar for a day

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- A group of youngsters eager to fly fighter jets got a taste of the real thing Thursday at Hill Air Force Base.

Fighter pilots with the 388th Fighter Wing shared their jobs and their dreams with kids who hung on every word. The Make-A-Wish Foundation brought eight Utah kids to the base for "Pilot for a Day," an inside glimpse at the life of a pilot.

Fighter pilots with the 388th Fighter Wing are used to soaring into the wild, blue yonder. Thursday, they helped spirits soar as they bonded with children with life-threatening medical conditions.

"Oh yeah, it's awesome," said Jordan Park, who showed up for the fun with his parents on his 17th birthday.

His parents say this gives Jordan a chance to relax and forget about medical problems for a day. Besides, the pilots have a lot to show, from F-16s to flight simulators that make any video game look like child's play.

There are no complaints with the long hours and the hard days we put in here... This is one day for them, and they would trade anything to be where we're at.

–Pilot Roberto Flammia

"It just brings back a little bit of their childhood," says Christine McAtee with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "It brings a little bit of joy back into their life to be able to focus on something that's fun and all about them, rather than doctors and hospitals."

The kids donned flight suits, helmets and dog tags. They even took the wheel on some machines. Jordan especially liked some of the high-tech gear.

"Trying on the night vision goggles was the best," he says.

They inspected the F-16s and found out about the pilots' missions. The pilots say they get as much out of these visits as their new friends.

"The best part of the day is when they start getting comfortable with you, feeling comfortable asking you questions," says Josh Larsen, an F-16 Pilot. "Then you can see their face light up as they get the answers and they kind of experience it through your eyes."

"There are no complaints with the long hours and the hard days we put in here," says pilot Roberto Flammia. "These kids would give anything to trade our shoes. This is one day for them, and they would trade anything to be where we're at."

The pilots and the Foundation revived the program last year after several years off. The pilots say if they're not flying a combat mission next year, this program is a priority.

E-mail: jboal@ksl.com


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