Wing welcomes youngest pilot; newest tradition

  • Published
  • By Capt. Erika Wonn
  • 121st Public Affairs
Roman Pettograsso, an 8-year-old boy from Galena, Ohio, visited the 121st Air Refueling Wing as the unit's first honorary pilot for a day. 

The event, practiced at other military bases around the country, is a community outreach program that works with local hospitals to welcome children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses for a day of military experiences.

The 121st ARW partnered with Nationwide Children's Hospital for this event, and plans to honor one child per quarter. 

During his visit, Pettograsso was escorted by his very own pilot mentor, Capt. Jason Morgan, a KC-135 pilot assigned to the 166th Air Refueling Squadron.   Pettograsso and his  family assisted a pre-flight inspection on an aircraft together, observed it's take off, visited the fire department, security forces squadron, and survival equipment shop. 

"This event brought joy to all the Airmen here at the 121st," Morgan said. "We may have meant it to be something great for the family, but it ended up reaching so many more."

He was presented with his own flight suit complete with personalized name and squadron patches. Roman was sworn in to be a pilot for a day by Col. Joseph Schulz, 121st ARW vice wing commander. "This was one of the coolest days of my career," Schulz said.

Pettograsso has insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, also known as type-1 diabetes.  He is thriving, thanks to an insulin pump which allows him to lead a somewhat normal life.

The family also enjoyed touring the base and partaking in the day's activities.  Accompanying Pettograsso were his parents, Chris and Melissa, and his brothers Aidan,13, Nicholas,11, and Giovanni, six.     
Pettograsso's mother expressed gratitude, explaining why the day was so special to the whole family.  "Being a pilot is the one thing that Roman can't pursue due to his illness.  It means so much that he could know what it would be like, even if for just one day."

The original "Pilot for a Day" program began in December 1994, organized by Capt. Rory "Ox" Blackburn at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.