“A special day for our very special kids.” That’s the slogan of the McChord Field Pilot for a Day program, a five-year-old program that gives medically challenged children, and children in medical remission from or currently suffering with catastrophic illnesses, a full day to experience life as a Team McChord member.
Carver Faull, a 14-year-old Washington resident and medulloblastoma survivor, became the newest pilot in the program Feb. 20 when he joined the 4th Airlift Squadron.
With his very own flight suit and patches, and a flight cap with the rank of first lieutenant, Carver was on his way to see some of the major components of McChord Field, accompanied by his father, John, mother, Teresa, and younger sister Zoe.
The first stop was the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, where Carver climbed aboard a Humvee and took a joy ride with his family while he sat at the turret, grinning ear to ear.
The Airmen of the 22nd STS showed their specialized equipment to Carver, explained the details of their duties, including the dangers and the rewards of their tasks, and showed him their fully equipped training room.
“This event has been so important to us,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Guilmain, 22nd STS Superintendent. “We’re happy to be a part of it.”
The family continued on to the canine officer kennels at McChord Field and saw a demonstration of the working dogs capabilities as illegal substance detectors and suspect apprehenders, complete with a display of their biting techniques.
When asked if he had any questions about their training, Carver replied, “Just one... Can you train my dog?”
From there, the Faull family headed to Heritage Hill to meet with members of the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron’s explosive ordinance disposal flight.
“Fire in the hole!” Carver shouted into the radio, and a few seconds later a loud and very visible explosion was seen from across the air field.
“That was two and a half pounds of C-4 that you just detonated,” said Staff Sgt. Evan Grimme, 627th CES EOD technician, as he handed Carver a replica amount of C-4.
Next, EOD trained Carver on how to guide their remote-controlled bomb disposal robot, and he successfully picked up and disposed of a simulated explosive. “Don’t worry, I won’t blow you up,” Carver said to his sister, Zoe. Their next stop was the air traffic control tower. Carver was recognized as an honorary air traffic controller, and received his own call sign and an ATC badge to put on his flight suit. The family was given a tour of the tower, including the cat walk, where Carver looked over the ramps full of McChord Field C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
“That’s what you’re going to fly today,” said his father, as Carver beamed back at him.
After that, it was time for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training.
Carver watched a training video about parachuting, and then he was ready to virtually “jump”.
He was strapped into a training harness by a SERE specialist, and fitted with virtual reality goggles that simulated falling 4,000 feet from an aircraft. His goal was to navigate the parachute to the sand, for a soft landing.
From there, the family met with the 4th Airlift Squadron for a pizza party before Carver’s intelligence briefing.
“This program has a special place in our hearts. Thank you for being part of our squadron,” said Lt. Col. Matt Anderson, 4th AS commander, as they welcomed the Faull’s as family and coined Carver with the 4th AS commander’s coin.
Robert Branscomb, chairman of the Pilot for a Day committee, spoke to the Faull’s about the effort that goes into making this program possible.
“This program would not be possible without the support we get from the 4th AS”, said Branscomb. “Everything you see, from the flight suit and patches to the pizza, comes from community awareness and donations and funding from the McChord Field Air Force Association chapter, and the squadron plans and executes the entire day.
“We really make a difference in the lives of our Pilot for a Day lieutenants.” Carver’s mother, Teresa, welled up with tears as she explained what the day meant to her.
“For him to be able to do something like this, after the surgery, after 48 weeks of chemotherapy and all the struggles, it’s really spectacular,” she said.
“They [the 4th AS] took care of everything. We heard about the program through another family who had a child with cancer, and they were raving about it, so we contacted Capt. Marc Meier. After a few questions about Carver and his condition, they started planning, and a few months later here we are.”
In addition to the memorabilia Carver received and the events of the day, the family was surprised by another offer.
Carver’s medulloblastoma, a highly malignant type of brain tumor, drastically affected his basic motor functions.
“After all the treatments, he had to relearn how to walk, how to eat, and how to talk,” said Teresa.
“Do you remember that big gym at the 22nd STS? You know, those special tactics guys have a personal trainer who was formerly in the NFL,” said Anderson. “He just offered to be your personal trainer, Carver, at your discretion and as the family sees fit, when you’re ready to get these guns a little bigger.”
As the family and squadron looked to Carver with smiles on their faces, he replied, “But I’m only fourteen!”
After his in-depth operations, intelligence, and tactics briefing, Carver went to a static display of the C-17 and then to the C-17 flight simulator, and was finally able to put his full days’ worth of training to use during his very own mission.
For Carver, his family, and all the squadrons involved with the events of the program, the day and the mission was a huge success.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Teresa. “It’s been such an amazing experience.”
Special Thanks to Ken Marsh and West Coast Publishing for sponsoring this event.