Cancer survivor becomes pilot for a day

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By Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon, 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs / Published May 20, 2014


Two-year-old John Austin runs on the flightline during his Pilot for a Day visit May 15, 2014, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was four months old, and his parents were told that he had a 45 percent chance of surviving to age 5. He has since completed treatment and has been in remission since December 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)


Two-year-old John Austin and his mother Kristy climb into a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft May 15, 2014, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was four months old, and his parents were told that he had a 45 percent chance of surviving to age 5. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)


Two-year-old John Austin smiles as he listens to radio traffic inside the cockpit of a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft May 15, 2014, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was four months old, but has been in remission since December 2011 and finished treatment in October 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)


Two-year-old John Austin laughs with his father, Jason, after touring the base fire department May 15, 2014, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. The Austin family is stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, and had the opportunity to visit Altus AFB as part of the Altus Pilot for a Day program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)


Maj. Erick Brough flies two-year-old John Austin and his father, Jason, past Mount Rainier, Wash., in a C-17 Globemaster III flight simulator May 15, 2014. The Austin family visited Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and explored airplanes, fire trucks and the base air traffic control tower. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)


Two-year-old John Austin stands with members of the 58th Airlift Squadron May 15, 2014, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. Master Sgt. Keith Hackney of the 58th AS coordinated with other squadrons on base to make John’s day full of excitement and adventure. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) --

John Austin survived infant leukemia, seven surgeries, chemotherapy, respiratory failure and dozens of blood transfusions. He can now add Air Force pilot to that list.

Thanks to the 58th Airlift Squadron here and the Altus Air Force Base Pilot for a Day program, John spent the day exploring airplanes, fire trucks and the base air traffic control tower.

John was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was four months old, and his parents were told that he had a 45 percent chance of surviving to age 5. He completed his treatment in October, and the Austin family is finally beginning to ease into normal life post-treatment. 

"He's a typical two-and-a-half year old boy -- he gets into trouble, he's silly and funny, he loves planes and dinosaurs, and it has just been really awesome," said John's mother, Kristy. "He's only been off treatment since October, so this is a whole new world for us, just to have him at home playing and being silly. So we're just really excited to get to do normal things with him."

The Austin family, stationed at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, is the first family to take part in the pilot for a day program, which recently restarted after a period of inactivity.

The day began with an exclusive fire department convoy from the front gate to the 58th AS headquarters, where John and his mother rode in one of the big red fire engines from the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron. At the 58th AS, John received his standard-issue flight suit, donned with a U.S. flag, 58th AS patch, personalized name patch and a set of colonel insignia on his shoulders.

John earned his pilot wings in a crowded auditorium when Col. Bill Spangenthal, the 97th Air Mobility Wing commander, pinned them on John's flight suit. Everyone in the room applauded the newest and youngest pilot on base.

The family was then off to the flightline, where John had the opportunity to play in the cockpit of a C-17 Globemaster III, operate the controls of KC-135 Stratotanker's refueling boom and shoot water from fire trucks. John also watched a military working dog demonstration. He laughed and told the dog, "Good job," as the dog latched onto a bad guy's arm who was trying to run away.

After naptime, John continued his tour, where he flew in the C-17 simulator. Maj. Erick Brough copiloted the simulator, pointed out Mount Rainier, Washington, from the cockpit, and then flew the family over their home in Oklahoma City.

The family was overwhelmed with the support of everyone they met. John's father said that their experience at Altus AFB was characteristic of the Air Force family -- people caring for each other in a time of need.

"It's nothing but a phone call and everybody wants to be involved," said Master Sgt. Keith Hackney, who coordinated John's visit. "Everybody is willing to drop what they're doing for a cause like this."

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