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Andrews honors local youth as Pilot for a Day

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- Team Andrews fulfilled the dream of a 10-year-old Washington, D.C., boy stricken with multiple illnesses to experience a day in the life of a pilot Oct. 27. 

Michael Ogunjimi was the guest of the 459th Air Refueling Wing, which hosted the Pilot for a Day program here. His parents, Stephen and Florence Ogunjimi, and other guests including family members and friends, accompanied him on the daylong visit. 

Michael wore a flight suit with his name embossed on it as he visited various 459 ARW facilities, such as the 756th Air Refueling Squadron, then he toured an F-16 at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard. Michael also toured a KC-135 with Capt. Kara L. Sandifur, 459 ARW aircraft commander. 

Michael said he also had the opportunity to ride in a fire truck and watch a demonstration by the 316th Security Forces Squadron Military Working Dogs. 

The youngster also liked riding in a police cruiser on base. "I got to push the siren and lights," he said. 

Participating in the Pilot for a Day program enabled Michael to see what occurs at an Air Force base. 

"At first, I was thinking about being a hematologist, but then I came here," he said. "Now I think I could join the Air Force." 

Michael was born in Nigeria and came to the United States with his mother and siblings when he was 3 years old, said Mr. Ogunjimi, minister of Refuge Temple International in Washington. Mr. Ogunjimi is also originally from Nigeria and has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. He became a naturalized citizen at 10 years old. 

This is the first Michael, his family and friends have visited Andrews, said Mr. Ogunjimi.
Lisa N. Thaniel, sickle cell social worker at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, selected Michael for the Pilot for a Day program here because of his multiple medical conditions. 

"Some of the children at the hospital use their illness as a crutch," said Ms. Thaniel. "Michael doesn't. He is determined to do what he wants to do. He was a natural selection for Pilot for a Day." 

The Pilot for a Day program is similar to one started at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, in 1994, said Captain Sandifur, one of the team coordinators for the program here. The program allows a child to forget his illness for one day by having fun. 

Michael and other children who have been pilots for a day at Andrews have taught her a valuable lesson, said Captain Sandifur. 

"They are still kids," she said. "Their illness doesn't define them, and they like to forget it once in a while. Their attitude is amazing, rejuvenating and life-affirming."
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