By Airman Grace Nichols
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Team Little Rock invited a terminally ill Arkansas teenager to experience life as an Airman during the Pilot for a Day program Oct. 3 at Little Rock Air Force Base.
The Pilot for a Day program, began 26 years ago, varies base to base, but each have the same goal: to give service members the chance to be directly involved with the local community and allow children with serious or chronic conditions to experience a day in the life of a U.S. Air Force pilot.
“We have many things related to our mission that are just downright cool,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Seth Lake, 314th Operations Group evaluator. “Giving a child from the community who has been faced with so many challenges the chance to interact with those things in a one-on-one environment was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
James Rogers, a 17-year-old diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, experienced what it’s like to be a pilot for a day. He was paired up with Lake as his wingman, who helped show Rogers the ropes.
“I hadn’t met James yet, so he was quiet at first,” Lake said. “The most exciting thing was seeing his enthusiasm increasing throughout the day.”
Leaving his day-to-day challenges at the gate, Rogers was dubbed a Combat Airlifter and tasked with the Combat Airlift mission.
“Regardless of his medical challenges, James is an outstanding young man with a genuinely kind and giving heart,” said Ali Miller, Camp Aldersgate CEO, a non-profit camp which Rogers annually participates in.
Upon his arrival, Rogers was issued a flight suit, complete with patches on each shoulder and a personalized name tape.
Upon donning an aircrew helmet before boarding a C-130J, the honorary pilot blended in on the flightline with the other aircrew.
Rogers received a personal tour of an active C-130J Super Hercules, and then experienced what all student pilots endure to become a certified pilot and flew a C-130J in the simulator.
With delighted laughter despite crashing the simulated aircraft, the new pilot learned the basics of flight. “I need more practice,” Rogers said.
Rogers also had the opportunity to witness the full spectrum of Combat Airlift operations.
Knowing Rogers’ passion for firefighting, coordinators included a special stop at the base fire department.
“He is a Junior Firefighter, and loves everything to do with firefighting,” Miller said.
After Rogers geared up, three firefighters helped him operate a firehose.
“It was a great opportunity for our guys to showcase our job and daily operations and help James live his dream,” said U.S Air Force Master Sgt. Mark Johnson, 19th Mission Support Group Fire Department deputy fire chief.
Rogers was the first member of the community for more than two years to participate in Team Little Rock’s Pilot for a Day program.
“I hope that the program can continue for years to come and have a meaningful impact on the lives of children in Arkansas,” Lake said. “Overall it was a success, I think James and his family had a good time, and it was a great experience for everyone involved.”