New friends grant old wish

Honorary 2nd Lt. Matthew Vroman gives the thumbs up after assisting flight crews with a preflight check prior to an airdrop mission at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Matthew has diamond blackfan anemia and visited Dobbins with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama. (Air Force photo/Don Peek)

Honorary 2nd Lt. Matthew Vroman gives the thumbs up after assisting flight crews with a preflight check prior to an airdrop mission at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Matthew has diamond blackfan anemia and visited Dobbins with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)

Honorary 2nd Lt. Matthew Vroman reviews a map with Maj. Robert Light as a part of his preflight briefing during a Make-A-Wish event at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

Honorary 2nd Lt. Matthew Vroman reviews a map with Maj. Robert Light as a part of his preflight briefing during a Make-A-Wish event at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga., -- The shy, more than slightly reserved young pilot in the flight suit looked about the room nervously. Behind small-framed glasses, his eyes darted from person to person. Flash bulbs went off and a news camera looked on as a booming voice read the last of his citation.

"... and so it is with great honor that Matthew Vroman will be commissioned in the rank of honorary second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, this 26th day of April, 2007."
With that, the room erupted in applause, smiles and congratulations.

"He's definitely the smallest person I've ever seen commissioned," said Col. Heath Nuckolls, 94th Airlift Wing commander, but then again, most eight-year-olds are.

As part of the Air Force's 60th Anniversary celebration and the community outreach associated with the Air Force Week Atlanta program, the 94th Airlift Wing sought out Make-A-Wish and partnered to bring honorary Lieutenant Vroman's dream to life.

"The Air Force has a history of reaching out to give back to the community. This is one way we can do that," Colonel Nuckolls said.

Matthew, a resident of Powder Springs, Ga., suffers from a rare disease called diamond blackfan anemia, a condition that prevents his body from creating enough red blood cells. Matthew needs transfusions every three weeks before he starts to tire and his young body slows.

But, there was no weariness in Lieutenant Vroman during this visit. His mother, Kathi and the volunteers said they hadn't seen him this happy in a while. After Colonel Nuckolls made Lieutenant Vroman an aircrew member, he was given a tour of the squadron building and had a quick look at the charts. Then it was time to get down to business. And to any young pilot, that means flying.

"He loves to fly, that is his dream. Not just in a plane, but to really fly. He told his brother he wanted to be 'like Peter Pan' and be able to just hold his arms out and fly," said PJ White, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama.

In the simulator, the air conditioner hummed and the green lights of the instrument panels revealed an awestruck face as Lieutenant Vroman looked out over the pixels representing Kennesaw Mountain and the surrounding area. With a little help from Maj. James "Flash" Light, project officer and C-130 pilot, he circled the aircraft around, looking for his best friend's house and "The Big Chicken," a Marietta landmark.

"Look at his face," Matthew's mom Kathi said. "He's having so much fun."

That's what the Make-A-Wish foundation is all about, putting smiles on faces, and they've been doing it here in Georgia for the past 11 years. The Georgia/Alabama chapter alone grants more than 400 wishes per year, Ms. White said.

"It's a good to have the opportunity to fulfill his wish to be a pilot. Because of his condition, it probably wouldn't happen, but we had the ability to show him what a pilot's life is like on a day to day basis. The plan is to take him out and treat him like one of the guys," Major Light said.

After the C-130 simulator, the group visited the F-22 area at Lockheed Martin and the next day spent time at the squadron and with the pilots on the flightline, getting an up close and personal look at aircraft.

When the duty day is over, the young pilot is no longer shy or reserved. In fact, he has enough confidence to pull coin checks with his new friends. He receives a salute from the other pilots and returns it with vigor. He grabs his flight bag and walks to the car where his mom buckles him in and whispers encouragement - a luxury most pilots don't have.