Child becomes 95th FS 'pilot' for a day
By Staff Sgt. Stacey Haga, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 18, 2006
TYNDALL AFB, Fla. -- A young boy sits in the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle simulator. Screens displaying images of sky and sea surround him. A pilot helps him "lock on" to an aircraft.
"You got him," said Capt. Chad Spellman, 95th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot.
The boy laughs and asks for another shot at the target.
In this moment, it is easy to forget the boy, Austin Sheffield, has been very ill lately.
Austin, at age 11, is in a fight, not against enemy aircraft, but against cancer.
On Monday, he was a "pilot" in the 95th FS' first Pilot for a Day program.
The Pilot for a Day program here was inspired by a program that already exists at Randolph AFB, Texas.
"My wife saw pictures of their program in one of the squadrons and suggested we do the same or something similar," said Lt. Col. William Routt, 95th FS commander. "In addition, Master Sgt. Benjamin Rausa (325th Maintenance Squadron) has led a similar program for the last few air shows at Tyndall and he has inspired us."
With that inspiration and a lot of effort, the 95th FS adapted the program to its squadron's mission, giving their first "pilot" a tour of the squadron, lunch with their pilots, a ride in the simulator and tour of the F-15.
"Everyone in the squadron was very helpful in making it a success," said 1st Lt. Kristen Gibson, 95th FS adjutant, who spent many hours coordinating Austin's visit.
Even though the squadron has a very busy training schedule, the commander views this program as a great way to give back to the community and share their mission.
"There are many who are not as fortunate and through what ever means we can provide, comfort or a fun experience, we can give back," said Colonel Routt. "Through this program, I hope to paint a good picture of the 95th FS, the 325th Fighter Wing and the Air Force. We can tell the Air Force story to the community."
Austin's mother, step-father and sister joined him for his pilot for a day adventure and enjoyed the opportunity to come out and visit the squadron. Austin's sister, Jessica, even flew against him in the simulator.
"My hope for Austin and his family is simply to offer them an exciting experience," said Colonel Routt. "If we give him a fond memory, it will have been a success. They have had to deal with so many difficult times, many heart wrenching, and this day can offer an escape."
"It's an awesome way to make him and our family feel special," said Geri Papic, Austin's mother. "It gets him out of his daily routine."
"I'd like to thank the whole 95th FS," said Staff Sgt. Jason Papic, Southeast Air Defense Sector, Austin's step-father. "They made it happen."
Throughout the day, Austin was given small keepsakes to remind him of his special day and at the end of the day, he was presented a lithograph of himself in front of the F-15 signed by members of the 95th FS.
"Hopefully, Austin had fun and forgot about his illness for awhile," said Lieutenant Gibson.
When asked if he had a fun time, Austin smiled and said, "Yes, ma'am."
His smile got bigger when asked what his favorite part of the day was.
"I got to fly a test plane (in the simulator) and I shot down my sister," he said.