Leukemia survivors earn their wings
By Airman 1st Class Gustavo Castillo, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 22, 2013
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
The U.S. Air Force is well known for taking care of its own.
From base tours to special events, the community comes together in even the darkest times to support each other.
One hardship that some families face is the fight against cancer. To make this fight easier, communities offer love, support and time.
Members from Spangdahlem AB reached out to a local German hospital in hope to find children that would be able to attend a special day on base. This is what Spangdahlem has done for those children.
Sarah Pittman, 4, was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2012. She received IV chemotherapy until June 2013 and is still taking medication to battle her sickness.
Stevie Frost, 9, was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2010, in which he spent the next 14 months in and out of Mutterhaus der Borrormaerinnen in Trier undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Stevie is now 100 percent cancer free.
"When we look at our time spent beating leukemia, we see a lot of hardship but also an overwhelming wall of love, support and generosity from our Spangdahlem family that pulled us through," said Chanda Frost, Stevie's mother. "Steven has emerged from his treatments a strong, smart, empathetic child who loves life and lives every minute as fully as possible."
These families have faced a tremendous hardship over the last few years, and the Spangdahlem community decided they deserved something special: the full Saber experience.
"I got to play with the fire truck," Stevie said. "Even wear a flight suit and go in to the cockpit. I got to see diffused bombs, all that fun stuff."
Walking into the explosive ordnance disposal building, the children did not know what to expect. They were met at the door by an Airman in a padded suit and a big smile. The Airman's hand met with Stevie's in a high-five before the EOD technician led the group down the hall to a large room.
Excitement streamed from the children at the sight of the EOD technician controlling a robot used to gather information during incidents involving explosives and other hazardous materials.
"Trying to put myself in the place of a small child like them," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. David Collins, NCO in charge of EOD plans and intelligence, "yeah, I think that would be a pretty awesome and memorable experience."
The next stop was the base fire department. A small demonstration put on by Spangdahlem firefighters allowed the children to enter a fire truck. They fired the water cannon, which releases 300 gallons of water per minute, before each of them tried on fire protective suits.
Afterward, the tour visited the 480th Fighter Squadron, where Sarah and Stevie were given call-signs and flightsuits before checking out what sort of equipment pilots use in flight.
Sporting their new outfits, courtesy of the 480th FS spouse group, the children walked onto the flightline. There, next to a small group of Airmen standing at attention, was an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft. The Airmen saluted the children and their families before showing them around the aircraft.
Sarah and Stevie noticed something interesting about the aircraft. Near the cockpit was each of their names temporarily painted on the F-16 as if the children were pilots themselves.
After a brief lunch at Club Eifel, the Frosts and Pittmans arrived at the final stop of the base tour, the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center track to participate in the base's Relay for Life event.
Sarah, Stevie and other cancer survivors led the pack with the first Survivor lap around the track. This signified the beginning of the event, where hundreds followed to show their support.
The event raised more than $24,700 toward the fight on cancer, beating Spangdamen's -- the base's women's group-- goal by $10,000.
"While our goal was greatly surpassed," said 1st Lt. Lucia White, Relay for Life committee chair. "The true success was being able to bring the community together in the name of helping others through a day of remembrance, smiles, tears and hard work."
These families are a part of the Spangdahlem community and while they are not attached directly to the base, they are Americans who work with the military.
The Air Force does whatever it takes to care for its own. This special day for these families is just one of the ways Spangdahlem ensures the happiness of its community.