Team Andrews hosted its annual Pilot for a Day Program Nov.22.
Ne’Veah Littleton, eight years old, was diagnosed with stage four Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a tumor on the brain stem in April 2013. The average length of survival of children diagnosed with DIPG is approximately nine months. The one-year survival rate is about 30 percent and the two-year rate is less than 10 percent, according to a website for DIPG patients, www.riahsrainbow.org.
Members from JBA, along with partners from the community, joined together to treat Littleton like a world-class pilot and made him a pilot for life through the Pilot for the Day program.
The program started in the 1990s at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas and came to JBA in 2005. Known as P4D, the Pilot for the Day program is designed to give terminally ill children the opportunity to live out their dreams for a day and for their families to enjoy time outside the challenges of everyday living. The staff from Children’s National Medical Center, Washington D.C., chooses children to participate in the program.
“The Pilot for a Day program has grown into a joint effort with all units on base and outside organizations,” said Lt. Col. Rob Balzano, 201st Operations Support Flight commander and P4D lead coordinator. “It gives us, as military members, a chance to give back to the community and show our appreciation for their support.”
Ne’Veah’s day began with a special initiation as the P4D by taking an oath of office in front of a crowd standing at attention at the 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s auditorium. He was issued a flight suit, a flight bag and the proper insignia to ensure he was within uniform regulations.
“An oath symbolizes personal beliefs and faith,” said Maj. Kara Sandifur, 459th Operations Group executive officer and P4D coordinator. “Promising to smile, have fun, and ask questions shows his belief that his disease doesn’t control his life. He is still an 8-year-old boy who likes to have a good time.”
Capt. Brad Lampel, a 201st Airlift Squadron mission pilot, was Ne’Veah’s wingman, and took him to experience all the different JBA units. With Lampel, Ne’Veah rode in an F-16 fighter jet simulator and sat in a parachute harness at the 121st Fighter Squadron, toured a KC-135 at the 459th ARW, reveiwed a military working dog demonstration by the 11th Wing Security Forces Squadron, ate lunch on a C-40 aircraft used to transport the first lady of the United States, shot water out of water cannons off the fire truck, and he even called the tower to request clearance as they taxied onto the runway in a C-38 aircraft operated by the 201st AS. In addition, the team was able to sit in a helicopter from the Maryland State Police.
“I am his wingman for life, so we will always be in contact,” said Lampel. “This is all very memorable. It’s the greatest thing to happen to me this year- a highlight for sure.”
When asked what his favorite part of the day was, Ne’Veah said he liked the dogs, and all the patches he received.
“I liked the dogs -- I liked the bad guy part. My favorite part was throwing the bone for him,” he said. I got a lot of patches too. I don’t even remember where I got all of them.”
After all the stops of the day and many sugary snacks later, Ne’veah and his family headed back to the 459th ARW for a special ceremony.
Commanders and other representatives from all units attended the ceremony where they saw a slide-show of Ne’Veah’s special day and presented him with coins, T-shirts, model aircraft, a firefighter helmet, and other items from the units he visited. He received a signed shirt from the first lady, a signed helmet from the Washington Redksins, a signed photo from Robert Griffin III, Redskins quarterback, tickets to a Redkskins football game and a night at the Gaylord National Resort, National Harbor, Md.
“I am beyond speechless,” said Matti Littleton, mother of Ne’Veah. “Everything you all have done is beyond memorable. Watching him smile has been my favorite part -- watching everything he wishes for really come true; everything is priceless. Any chance they give us to come back, we will.”
In addition to the gifts from the units, the Littleton family was informed that two months of their mortgage would be paid for by the Check 6 Foundation.
The Check 6 Foundation is a non-profit organization started by Balzano to help raise funds and awareness for the P4D program as well as the Veterans Wingman program. Funds are used to aid terminally ill children and their families by helping with bills or other hardships. For more information on the Check 6 Foundation, visit www.check6.org
“Check six is a pilot term which means check your six o’clock, or, check behind you,” said Balzano. “It is a term with an underlying meaning of ‘I got your back’ and the foundation does exactly that- we support these kids and families and try to help them.”
Each year the program has a P4D reunion at the Joint Service Open House and all the previous kids who are able to attend are invited with their families and re-unite with their wingmen. Despite JSOH being cancelled this year, there are still plans to have a reunion with the pilots.
The P4D program occurs twice a year- once in the spring and once in the fall. Ne’Veah is the 14th pilot to take the oath. As the program is focused on children who are terminally ill, it has lost three pilots due to their illnesses.