JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARSON, Alaska --
Every child has a hero or idol. At Providence Children's Hospital, there are a handful of children who are fond of Air Force pilots in particular. During a recent visit to the hospital, the children were given the opportunity to meet a group of pilots from the 302nd Fighter Squadron, the 517th Airlift Squadron, and the 537th Airlift Squadron.
The pilots and children made paper airplanes, talked about different aircraft the pilots have flown, spoke of different goals the children had in mind, and discussed what it's like to fly planes.
"Having the pilots come to the children's hospital really helps normalize the children's day by allowing them to come down to the art room and engage in activities like paper airplane racing," said Jennifer Booher, child life specialist at the children's hospital. "The smiles on the patients' faces showed how excited they were to have special visitors; one of the patients even jokingly asked, 'Where did they land their plane?'"
Patients and other children who had the opportunity to visit ranged in age from 3 to 7 years old.
According to http://alaska.providence.org
, Providence serves Alaskans in eight communities: Anchorage, Cordova, Eagle River, Kodiak Island, Matanuska-Susitna, Seward, Soldotna and Valdez.
Not only did children from various schools around the Anchorage area come out to attend the visit, but children from other parts of Alaska as well.
"We are the only children's hospital in Alaska. All special visitors are arranged through the Child Life Department," Booher said.
Seeing as Providence is known to have the only extensive pediatric clinic in Alaska, children from all across Alaska go there to receive medical treatment. Children from villages such as Napakiak and Napaskiak in the Bethel area are prominent in the clinic.
"The main goal of having special visitors is to provide something unique for our patients, such as allowing them to play various games with those who they admire or just have someone special to hang out with from time to time," Booher said.
Some of the pilots were asked how they felt about the experience of coming out and hanging out with the children.
"I think this has been a very rewarding experience," said Air Force 1st Lt. Isaac Landecker, C-17 Globemaster III pilot. "I can just tell from the look on the kids' faces and spending time with them."
Booher said some of the children at the hospital have been there for an extended period of time.
"Some of these patients are in the hospital for weeks, and just having someone new come in and spend one-on-one time with them helps provide normalcy," Booher said. "These special visits not only benefit our patients but also their parents and siblings."
Booher further expressed how she feels about the significance of having service members come and meet the children.
"I think having our patients see men and women in uniform is always something special," Booher said. "When I first brought up the visit to the children, there were many smiles when I mentioned that pilots were coming in to visit and play, watching these young boys run the hospital halls flying airplanes with pilots provided many smiles, not only to our patients' faces but parents and staff as well."
Although this is one of the first times the hospital has facilitated a visit like this, Booher alluded to the possibility there may be future events such as this one.
"The Children's Hospital is always open to arrange special-group visits," Booher said. "I really feel that if JBER is able to provide the Pilot For a Day Program, that would be a huge success with our patients and families."
Booher said she was eager to have the pilots come to the hospital again.
"It was really an honor coming out and getting the opportunity and spending some time with the kids," said Air Force Capt. Zachary Dorman, 517th AS C-17 pilot. "Just to see their strength and observe what they have to go through was eye-opening and is something I'd like to see continued."