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Airmen owe ‘Pilot for a Day’ plenty of soda

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian Shawn Bowen, 8, left, asks Senior Airman Cole Hoffman for a “coin check” while touring a C-17. Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO

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Shawn Bowen pulled his three challenge coins from his flight suit May 17 before boarding a C-17 Globemaster III on JBLM McChord Field. He was ensuring that his 4th Airlift Squadron tour guides had their coins as well; if they failed to produce coins they owed the 8-year-old a soda.

Bowen was participating in the Pilot for a Day program at McChord Field, which also included a spin in a flight simulator, using an explosive ordnance disposal robot and spraying water on the flightline with McChord Field firefighters.

The Pilot for a Day program benefits local children facing serious illnesses. Bowen, after undergoing 3 1/2 years of treatment, is in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Along for the whole day of activities were Shawn's parents Justin and Sanya and older sisters Ashley and Alyssa.

The day was made even more special for the Bowen family since Justin, a first lieutenant stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, is set to deploy to Afghanistan this month.

"Any chance we get to make family memories is great, especially any good times we can have after all the tough ones," Justin said.

While Shawn aspires to hunt for Big Foot when he grows up, Capt. Chris Schlener said Shawn had "golden hands" while flying the simulator.

"He did awesome," Schlener said. "He had some of the nicest approaches for anyone his age or my age."

Shawn's simulated flight took him all over Washington, including Seattle, Mount Rainier and his McChord Field neighborhood, while his sisters flew over Hawaii and over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

For the Airmen involved in planning the day, it was fun to see what other units at McChord Field do daily, like EOD and firemen. Captain David Agee of the 4th AS spearheaded the tour and was happy to give the Bowen family a memorable day.

"We are showing support for our own families and creating a day for them to hang out before he's gone. That added a special significance for me," Agee said.

The 4th AS hosts most of the Pilot for a Day recipients but coordinates with units across McChord Field to make the day happen. For 4th AS Commander Lt. Col. T.J. O'Connell, the day is about giving back to the community.

"We get to help kids going through a troubled time and give a boost to their day. We love it," O'Connell said.

Shawn was selected to participate after receiving attention for a Pennies for Patients fundraiser at Carter Lake Elementary School.

When Sanya Bowen was contacted about the opportunity, she said the program sounded "awesome." Throughout the day she was overwhelmed by how welcoming everyone was and the many activities they participated in. It was difficult for her to put into words what the Pilot for a Day program meant to her family.

"It ranks up there with Make a Wish; it happens once in a lifetime," she said. "This is something the kids will remember forever." As the day ended Shawn was exhausted but still trying to check every Airman for coins, and even his own dad.

"You still owe me a coin," Shawn reminded him.

The elder Bowen promised to get him one from his unit as soon as he could.

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