Ellsworth gives boy 'best day ever'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alessandra N. Hurley
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Aric Lassegard, an 8-year-old boy from Rapid City who was born with a developmental disability, was given the opportunity of a lifetime, Jan. 13.

Aric visited Ellsworth as part of a program called Aircrew for a Day which allows children with disabilities or illnesses to experience being a B-1B Lancer aircrew member for a day. During his visit, he also had the opportunity to visit agencies across the base, including the fire department, 28th Security Forces Squadron and the B-1 simulator.

Aric, and his parents, Ole and Yvette Lassegard, along with his grandparents, Jean Lassegard and Delton Snyder, started their tour at the 34th Bomb Squadron.

Capt. Chris Williams, 34th BS B-1 pilot, was the official host and guided the family on their tour of the base.

"It's pretty awesome to see Aric so excited," the captain said. "As a father with a son of my own, I feel proud to be in the Air Force and have this opportunity to be able to show Aric our airplanes, fire trucks and other agencies."

One of the officers who helped coordinate the event, 1st Lt. Matt Fryer, 34th BS assistant chief of flight safety, said he has been involved with Aircrew for a Day only a brief time. He said he is happy to help accomplish the overall objective of the program, allowing children a chance to forget about their illness for a day and just enjoy being a kid.

"Here, they can experience the day-to-day operations of the B-1 community to include flight operations and various support organizations such as airfield operations, maintenance and security forces," he said.

Mr. Snyder, Aric's grandfather, said he enjoyed watching Aric have a good time, and was grateful to the Air Force for providing this unique experience.

"I think it's terrific that the Air Force takes time to help kids in this way," he said.

Mrs. Lassegard, Aric's grandmother, said this was a day she would never forget.

"The flight suit they gave him is just outstanding," she said. "It's awesome to see Aric so happy and to hear him saying that he's having his best day ever."

After seeing a B-1B up close at the flightline, Aric and his family were given a tour of the fire department.

Airmen 1st Class Jeffrey Hoffman and Charles Carreras, 28th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters, said they were happy to walk with Aric, assist him into the emergency vehicle and watch his joyful reactions.

"It felt good to watch his face light up as he saw the truck for the first time, and show him around the fire station," Airman Hoffman said. "This whole time with him here has been a lot of fun."

Airman Carreras agreed that helping Aric shoot the water from the vehicle and seeing Aric so happy was an enjoyable experience.

Aric also said he was having a good time touring the base with Airmen who showed him the planes and fire trucks.

"I've liked planes all my life. My favorite part of today, so far, is getting to squirt the water from the fire truck."

The Aircrew for a Day program takes place every year with a little help and effort from Airmen, doctors and families who come together to help make a day for a child, like Aric, their best day ever.

The program was created in December 1994 by Capt. Rory Blackburn, a pilot assigned to the 560th Squadron at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. It quickly spread to bases around the world including the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.

Dr. John Spangler, civilian medical liaison and retired pediatrician, in coordination with Ellsworth Airmen, helped to get the program started.

"As a retired pediatric cardiologist, I have seen so many children faced with medical adversity and Aric is one who has had a rough start, but has come a long way," Doctor Spangler said. "I've been involved with Aircrew for a Day for approximately seven years because I love kids and it's worthwhile to honor their families. Illnesses like Aric's can be devastating to a family, but the Lassegards have handled it beautifully. This family has shown particular care and courage."

Lieutenant Fryer, who worked with Dr. Spangler, said he felt grateful to be part of the program and that he was very appreciative of all base agencies that were able to contribute to the day's success.

"I am proud to have the opportunity to work with others in the community, and I'm thankful for all of the work and support everyone around the base has put into this," Lieutenant Fryer said. "As a pilot, it's always fun when I get the chance to fly and it's great to see a child's face light up as he's looking at a B-1."