Back to Focus

Program continues to touch lives

Pilot for a Day brings joy to another family fighting disease

Caleb and Jeremiah Pancake (in flight suits, from left) along with family members, stand in front of a C-17 Globemaster III with 4th Airlift Squadron members as part of the Pilot for a Day program. /Airman 1st Class Leah Young

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

Surrounded by their sister and a few cousins, brothers Jeremiah and Caleb Pancake readied themselves for the big blast.

In unison, the children shouted, "Fire in the hole!" three times before a large explosion rocked the far end of the flightline on McChord Field. Grins flashed across the excited faces of the children as smoke poured from the explosion site.

The explosive ordnance disposal demonstration March 16 at the base was all part of McChord Field's Pilot for a Day program. The Pancake brothers, both diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, got an opportunity to tour the base fire station, control tower, C-17 Globemaster III simulator and get a personalized tour of the aircraft.

The Air Force Association-sponsored Pilot for a Day program is a program that enables challenged youth a chance to visit an Air Force base, becoming part of the team in the process. The participants are selected through a partnership with a community hospital or foster program. Jeremiah, 10, and Caleb, 6, both have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes thick mucus in a person's body and makes them especially susceptible to lung infections. It also makes digestion difficult because it encases the pancreas in mucus, blocking enzymes that help break down food.

"It's a lot of work, but it's kind of our normal," said the brothers' mother, Charity, of dealing with the disease. "Since our first one had it, it's just kind of normal for us."

The day of fun at McChord provided a good diversion for the brothers, who both received their own custom flight suit, jacket and garrison cap.

"They were pretty excited when they heard they were selected to go," Charity said. "They like military things, and this gives them a glimpse of military life."

For Tech. Sgt. Mark Hafer, a loadmaster from the host 4th Airlift Squadron, the event was a chance for him to get involved and play a special role in bringing joy to others' lives.

"I wanted to be a part of this because I knew it meant a lot to not only the family but to the 4th Airlift Squadron," Hafer said while watching the children get prepared for the EOD demonstration.

Hafer stayed in touch with the family via phone over the last few weeks, updating them on the plans for the big day.

"I'm thrilled to be part of it," he said. "It's a life experience for the family, the kids."

In all, 15 members of the extended Pancake family got to experience the day.

Despite staying awake most of the night before coughing, Jeremiah was amped for his time in the simulator.

"I'm going to fly the plane and ask them what all the buttons do," the 10-year-old declared.

In addition to the day of fun at the base, the family, which traveled up the day before from Napavine, was also the recipient of a wealth of outpouring from local AFA community partners. The Red Lion Inn in Tacoma provided rooms at a discounted rate, hosted a pre-event party at its headquarters and Farrelli's in DuPont put on a pizza party at the day's end, said Tommy Carson, an AFA board member.

"We couldn't do this without the help of our community partners," Carson said.   

For more information on the program or to make a donation, visit

comments powered by Disqus