Fighter Pilot For A Day
By SrA Rosie Stahl , 159th Fighter Wing, LA ANG
/ Published April 30, 2009
October 29th, 2008 -- BELLE CHASSE, La. - Just two days before Halloween, "Batman" dropped in for a special visit with 159th Fighter Wing Operations Group and Maintenance Squadron for an exciting adventure.
Last October, Rivers Lacrouts received a warm welcome as he and his mother, Bridget Simpson, visited the Fighter Wing, part of the Fighter Pilot For a Day program.
Similar to the "Make a Wish Foundation," coordination for the event began as early as spring 2008, where a base effort was put together to ensure he saw what real pilots do.
Lt. Col. Sostarics, commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, and his family has known Rivers and his mother, for more than four years through his wife's , Nicole, workplace. Sostarics said the event is usually coordinated around operation group missions to allow for a full tour of the jets preparation and execution process. "It's where you get to treat them to a special day," said Sostarics.
Rivers was diagnosed with Type 2 spinal muscular atrophy at nine-months-old. The disease includes muscle weakness and susceptibility to respiratory tract infections. Even the common cold can lead to pneumonia; therefore he frequents Children's Hospital, said Nicole.
Louisiana State Troop B chose him to go to Walt Disney World in March 2008. "We stayed right in Animal Kingdom, where we could look out the window and see the animals dance underneath. It was fantastic," Nicole said.
When Rivers and his mother arrived on base on October 29, 2008, fire trucks escorted him to the flight line to view the F-15s. The 159th Fighter Wing presented him with his own flight suit, Air Force patches and call sign, "Batman" because he wants to be a superhero when he grows up, Simpson said.
He received a tour of the F-15 and as he sat in the cockpit, he said that the joystick in the cockpit looks like the one on his wheelchair, nicknamed "Max."
He also met with the Coast Guard's helicopter team, whom placed him in an air basket and raised him into the sky and lowered him. Adorned with a hat, patches and other souvenirs, Sostarics said the turn out was great for him and everyone was enthusiastic.
"The day was wonderful," said Nicole. For the final finale, the jet took-off into the sky with Rivers has the front observer.
The 122nd Fighter Squadron has participated in the program for more than 10-15 times since 2002, according to Sostarics. He has participated in the program at other bases as well, including Alaska. "I'm always pleased to do it and to be able to see young kids smile as well," said Sostarics.
For Halloween, he wore his pilot suit and was "Batman the Fighter Pilot." For next year's Halloween, Freeman, the advertising firm where Nicole and Simpson are employed has plans to create cut-outs of jet wings to attach to "Max."
"His mother is a wonderful mom. She always makes sure his life is as full as it can be," said Nicole.