169th Fighter Wing
McENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C., August 24, 2015 — Six-year-old Declan Alexander was recently honored as a Swamp Fox Pilot for a Day by the 169th Fighter Wing here, receiving a hero's welcome from the moment he arrived on base.
Declan and his father Brian Alexander were guests of the South Carolina Air National Guard Aug. 15, as part of the Pilot for a Day program, which allows children with disadvantages or debilitating illnesses to experience the life of a fighter pilot.
"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 with Declan receiving a custom 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 Falcon aircraft 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," Brian Alexander said. "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 bearing his name on the side. He also enjoyed spraying the water cannon from McEntire's largest fire truck while touring the fire department, Brian Alexander said.
"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," he 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," he added.
The 169th Fighter Wing has supported the Pilot for a Day program for nearly two decades.