Young Cancer Patient Fulfills Dream As
'Airman For A Day'
by U.S. Air Force Jennifer Eaton
Air Base Wing Public Affairs, Hill Air Force Base
June 26, 2019
Teenage warrior Michelle McConnell has battled bone cancer and
amputation with a strength and tenacity that left no doubt among her
family or the U.S. Air Force that she was tough enough to become a
combat-trained ... Airman For A Day.
When the 15-year-old made
the formal request through
Make-A-Wish Utah, Hill Air Force Base
enthusiastically mobilized to turn the dream into reality, providing
Michelle and her family an unforgettable afternoon of military
training, leadership and excitement.
Michelle said her desire
stemmed from participating in a prior “Pilot for A Day” program on
base, as well as from her admiration for those who wear the uniform.
“The Air Force is really cool and I think it’s awesome the way
the military works together to protect everyone in our country,” she
explained. “I was shocked and amazingly excited when I found out
that my Air Force wish was going to be granted.”
The day’s itinerary began when Michelle’s limousine arrived at
75th Air Base Wing Headquarters where she was issued a personalized
camouflage Air Battle Uniform and enjoyed pizza, root beer, birthday
cake and gifts with her family and senior Air Force leaders.
Michelle McConnell hoses a fire out with the guidance of Captain John Rice and Captain Daniel Payne, 775th Civil Engineering Squadron Firefighters, April 22, 2019 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Michelle was granted her wish to be Airman of the day by Make-A-Wish Utah and 75th Air Base Wing at Hill. (U.S. Air Force
photo by Cynthia Griggs)
After lunch, Michelle visited Hill AFB’s Fire Station 4 where
she met firefighters, toured the facility, and received training on
how to respond to structural fires. Michelle was fitted with a
protective suit, gloves, and helmet before traveling by firetruck,
sirens-blaring, to help douse the flames of a controlled training
“We were beyond honored when we found out Michelle
wanted to spend some time with us,” said Tiana Bykowski, Hill AFB
Fire Department public information and education officer. “When she
arrived, she seemed quiet and shy. By the end of our time with her,
she was laughing and joking just like one of us, and she stepped up
and fought the structural fire as if she had been doing it for
Michelle McConnell operates a Explosion Ordnance Disposal robot with Staff Sgt. Brian Gohlke, 775th Explosive Ordinance Disposal Flight April 22, 2019 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Michelle was granted her wish to be Airman of the day by Make-A-Wish Utah and 75th Air Base Wing at Hill. (U.S. Air Force
photo by Cynthia Griggs)
Next on the agenda, Michelle visited the Explosive Ordnance
Disposal team where she learned about the critical role EOD
technicians play in keeping warfighters safe at home and abroad. She
and her family traveled by Humvee caravan to the unit’s proficiency
range where Michelle impressed spectators with her skills in
operating one of the robots used in high-tech ordnance disposal.
Michelle also had the opportunity to use her command voice to issue
safety instructions and initiate two controlled detonations.
Michelle’s afternoon also included a visit to the 75th Security
Forces Squadron, where she was invited to ride along in a patrol car
during a routine traffic stop. At each location, Michelle earned a
coveted unit coin for her courage and determination. During the last
stop of the day, Team Hill’s Honor Guard conducted a flag-folding
ceremony and presented Michelle a flag flown in her honor over the
state capitol building. She also received her final coin of the day
from Col. Jon Eberlan, 75th Air Base Wing commander.
Michelle McConnell and her family watch Honor Guardsmen Tech. Sgt. Lakeisha Lee and Staff Sgt. Cherrelle Stott as they do a flag folding ceremony April 22, 2019 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Michelle was granted her wish to be Airman of the day by Make-A-Wish Utah and 75th Air Base Wing at Hill. (U.S. Air Force
photo by Cynthia Griggs)
Michelle’s mother Andrea McConnell said her daughter feels a
strong connection to the military and first responders because she
understands “what they must feel in terms of working to save lives.”
Andrea said she was overwhelmed with gratitude for the outpouring of
support from the different agencies on base.
“It makes your
heart sing to watch your child take in every single moment of an
experience like this,” she said. “There are no words to explain how
courageous she is and we pray she can take this strength and help
others to dig deep.”
Make-A-Wish Utah wish coordinator
Christina Wright also expressed her gratitude, explaining that
research shows children who have wishes granted build the emotional
and physical strength necessary to fight critical illnesses.
“Michelle has been looking forward to her wish for a very long
time, and seeing the community come together for a local child has
been inspiring,” Wright said. “Hill Air Force Base took Michelle’s
idea and created a magical day that is going to give her the grit to
keep fighting. For that,
Make-A-Wish Utah is forever grateful.”