South Carolina Air National Guard welcomes special guest
By Airman 1st Class Ashleigh S. Pavelek, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 19, 2015
MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- Six-year-old Declan Alexander was honored as a Swamp Fox Pilot for a Day, receiving a hero's welcome from the moment he arrived here on base August 15.
Declan and his father Brian Alexander, were guests of the South Carolina Air National Guard during the August drill weekend, as part of the Pilot for a Day program. The 169th Fighter Wing has supported Pilot for a Day for nearly two decades, allowing children with disadvantages and debilitating illnesses to experience the life of a Swamp Fox fighter pilot for a day.
"Pilot for a Day allows us to reach out to the community, make community bonds and make a difference in someone's life," said 1st Lt. Cody May, a fighter pilot assigned to the 157th Fighter Squadron and Declan's host for the day.
The tour, led by May, began at Base Operations where Declan received a custom Swamp Fox pilot's flight suit from the aircrew flight equipment shop. He was later escorted to the end of the runway to watch F-16 Fighting Falcons land and was greeted with 'thumbs up' and well wishes from the Airmen he met on base.
"It is hard to express how cool it is to have everyone take time out of their day to set all this up and show us around and create lasting memories," said Declan's father, Brian Alexander. "It really is an amazing experience. There really are not words to express how much of a big deal this is for him and for us."
Declan displayed a big smile while sitting in the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon bearing his name on the side. He also enjoyed spraying the water cannon from McEntire's largest fire truck provided by the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron while touring the fire department, said his father.
"Getting to ride in a fire truck and getting to sit in a fighter jet are two things you don't ever get to do," Alexander said. "Those were definitely a ton of fun and put a smile on his face."
The Pilot for a Day program helps a child and the child's family to gain a memory of a lifetime, and is just as important to the Swamp Fox family who welcomed the young hero.
May said the most important part of the Pilot for a Day program is it has the ability to take a family's mind off of an illness by allowing them to experience something that very few people will ever get to experience.
"I really enjoyed being able to make a difference in someone's life," said May.