Dream come true

  • Published
  • By Capt. John Severns
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Andrew Swan is a slight young man with a surprisingly firm handshake, the kind you might expect from a carpenter or a wrestler.

Andrew is neither of those things. At 17 years of age, he is a high school junior from Garden City, Kan., getting ready for the summer break and other rituals of youth. But he also has weightier issues on his mind, problems requiring strength and perseverance far beyond most of his peers.

Andrew is ill with a chronic kidney condition. As a child he received a kidney donation from his mother in an attempt by doctors to reverse the slow organ failure that was threatening his life. Ever since, he has been in and out of the hospital, struggling to overcome his illness and lead a normal life.

For two days at this Global Strike Command base, however, Andrew was a part of Team Whiteman, joining Airmen in the tower, in a B-2 Spirit and on the firing range to help protect America.

Andrew's visit was made possible through the hard work of Team Whiteman Airmen and the Kansas City, Mo. chapter of the Dream Factory, a national non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling the dreams of children with critical or chronic illnesses. Together, they helped make Andrew's dream of being a B-2 Spirit pilot-for-a-day come true.

Andrew was quick to describe why the B-2 was at the heart of his dream, following years of fascination with the aircraft.

"It was always the B-2 and any stealth equipment," he said. "It's been [my dream] ever since I first saw it, a long time ago."

"My medicine makes me sick from time to time, and whenever I get sick I have to stay home," he added. Watching shows about the military on the History channel, especially shows featuring the B-2, was his favorite way to pass the time.

Although operational and safety requirements prevented Andrew from actually flying in the B-2, members of Team Whiteman found other ways to get him up close and personal with his dream aircraft, including a ride in a B-2 simulator and an in-depth tour of a B-2 by pilots who volunteered their time and came in on the weekend to be a part of Andrew's visit.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime for us to be able to help make Drew's dream come true," said Lt. Col. Tony Monetti, 13th Bomb Squadron Assistant Director of Operations and one of the Airmen who helped organize the Dream Factory visit. "It's hard for us to imagine the challenges he has to overcome every day."

Andrew's visit started with a flight into Whiteman by Lt. Col. Harold Bruninga, 131st Bomb Wing traditional guardsman, where he was greeted by dozens of Airmen who came out to meet him, including Brig. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, 509th Bomb Wing commander.

Once deplaned, it was time to start a busy day, with visits to the Air Traffic Control Tower, the 509th Security Forces Squadron's firing range, and a special pilot's roll call at Mission's End.

Day two was just as busy, with a stop at the 509th Operations Support Squadron for egress training, on the off chance his ride in the B-2 simulator later that day was rougher than expected. After that it was time for a visit to maintenance to see an A-10 belonging to the 442nd Fighter Wing up close and personal.

"It was life-changing for this boy and it was life changing for myself," said Elaine Apel, the Dream Factory coordinator for Andrew's visit. "We were so overwhelmed by everything they were able to do for him. When we landed at Whiteman and saw the marquee saying 'Welcome to Drew's Dream' and General Vander Hamm was there to greet us, our mouths fell open and I knew it was going to be an incredible day."