SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
The 4th Fighter Wing Protocol office partnered with the 334th Fighter Squadron to initiate the Pilot for a Day program to provide children who have serious or chronic conditions, and their families, with the opportunity to be a guest of the 4th FW and a fighter squadron for a day.
Seven-year-old Alexis “Crusher” Chamberlain was diagnosed with Leukemia in July 2016. She was chosen to become an honorary pilot and special guest for the day by a certified Child Life Specialists at a local children’s hospital.
The day began with a "swearing in" ceremony at the host squadron, officially recognizing “Crusher” as an honorary pilot. Capt. Andrew Lawler and Capt. Jonathan Martin, 334th FS F-15E Strike Eagle instructor pilots, accompanied “Crusher” throughout the day, answering questions and ensuring she and her family had a memorable experience.
The two instructor pilots led a tour of the squadron, air traffic control tower, flight simulator and presented her with her own flight suit, patches and name badge.
After she was geared up, Alexis was in for another surprise. She was led into an aircraft hangar with her own magnetic nameplate to the side of an F-15E Strike Eagle.
“I was so nervous when I saw the plane,” said Alexis. “That was my first time seeing one in person. It was so awesome.”
After seeing his daughter’s reaction to the hospitality of the pilots and her first-hand experience with the Strike Eagle, it brought tears to the eyes of Allen Williams, Alexis’ dad.
“This was such a happy moment for us,” Williams said. “Just seeing how happy this has made her is worth every moment. I know when times get hard, she will look back on this and remember how amazing this day felt to her.”
According to Lawler and Martin, Alexis was full of positivity and smiles from the moment she walked in to the squadron.
“They gave me some shirts, a key chain and this cool suit,” said Alexis. “But my favorite gift of all were these cool coins.”
Alongside the fighter squadron’s memorabilia and gifts, was a set of pilot wing for “Crusher”, presented by Col. Richard Dickens, 4th Operations Group commander.
Pilot for a Day program participants battle a variety of illnesses and diseases, to include terminal illnesses. For many children with severe, but not terminal illnesses, the program is a significant milestone in their recovery.
“We host these events based on a genuine desire to do so,” Martin said. “To think that a few hours of time can create a bright moment for a young child in need is an emotional event for us. It's easy in our profession to get lost in the grind. We are so fortunate and privileged for the opportunity to work with someone like 'Crusher.' It is humbling to see what strength and bravery truly look like.”