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Rescue Airmen give kids day to remember

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Leslie Forshaw
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Airmen who are used to risking their lives to save others in combat or natural disasters gave two little boys a glimpse at what they do in the 920th Rescue Wing.

The boys, Finnian Gerts, 7, and Trevor Scheerer, 5, are used to danger, too. They are both battling cancer to stay alive.

Finnian has been receiving treatment for nearly three years. He has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, cancer of the blood and bone. According to his mom, Amy Gerts, he is responding well to treatment.

Trevor has Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancerous (malignant) tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones. He is in his second year of treatment for this rare cancer.
"Currently those treatments have not been effective," said Trevor's mom, Jody Scheerer. "But, he is about to start a new round of treatments, lasting from 6 to 12 months after a surgery next month."

The boys met at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando during medical treatments they were receiving for their illnesses.

Amy lives on Patrick AFB with her husband, Dr. David Gerts, a physicist at the Air Force Technical Applications Center, and four children.

"Living on a military base intrigued Finnian's friend Trevor, and he loved hearing about the helicopters and planes that fly over our house almost daily," said Amy.

When the aircraft fly over, Finnian's parents tell him that there are "Air Force guys onboard" who rescue people when they are hurt.

"He knows that his younger friend Trevor is hurt," said Amy, so he wanted to invite his friend to see the base, and possible meet these "Air Force guys."

"Like typical little boys, Trevor and Finnian love to play G.I. Joe and Army guys, so we came up with the idea of giving the boys a chance to be little military guys for a day," said Amy.

With approval from their doctors, followed by phone calls and emails to the base, the boys and their families were permitted to visit the rescue wing in June.

"This is the last trip we will be able take before Trevor starts his new treatments," said Jody, who lives in Orlando with her husband, daughter and Trevor.

The families worked together to organize the visit to the 920th RQW and host 45th Space Wing.

"You guys have the coolest stuff on base," said Dr. Gerts. "We all have important missions here, but the 920th Rescue Wing has the most visible, accessible and able-to-be experienced mission."

Aircraft maintainers and aircrews on the wing's HC-130P/N King tankers and the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters pulled out all the stops for the boys and their families to see and experience a behind-the-scenes look at how rescue missions happen.

Their first stop was a rotor-wing rescue refueling plane.

The boys and their siblings were invited onto the flight deck where the pilots control the plane. They were given the chance to put on aircrew headsets and talk via the aircraft communications system with Senior Master Sgt. Eric Draper, loadmaster, who was below in the aircraft cargo bay. The children pretended to be going on an ocean rescue where they had to fly over glaciers and volcanoes to search for sea turtles.

"The laughs and giggles were the best. It was fun," said Draper.

"It was a chance to help distract the boys from their harsher reality, and to draw out some of the wonder they have," said Draper. "It was by far, the best and most rewarding day I've had in some time."

A rescue helicopter was the next stop on the list.

On the way from the flightline to a hangar, "Trevor kept saying over and over again, 'I was a pilot, mom!'" said Jody.

Resting inside an aircraft hangar after a hard night of flying were several Air Force Reserve HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. Aircraft maintainers and aircrews, along with wing commander Col. Jeffrey Macrander showcased another side of combat search and rescue by sharing rescue stories aboard the Pave Hawk.

The boys and their siblings immediately jumped up in the cockpit and "flew" around pretending to look for and rescue people.

"Seeing the kids in the pilot seats of the HH-60 was awesome," said Dr. Gerts.

Both boys, though up early that morning, with medicine ports implanted in their chests and battling the heat, were engaged, energetic and ready to be the next pilot, loadmaster, crew chief or engineer.

From the rescue aircraft, the families had one more 920th stop to make - the pararescue squadron.

While boarding the bus, the boys and their siblings were buzzing about the 'guys' they kept hearing about; the guys who jumped out of the aircraft they just played in; the guys who are lifesavers - the G.I. Joes of the Air Force - the Air Force Reserve Guardian Angels.

The children spotted Pararescueman Senior Master Sgt. Mike Ziegler first, recognizing him as one of those 'guys.' Resembling a real-life action figure in his head-to-toe combat uniform and gear, he greeted the families and relayed a dilemma he had. Two of his guys had fallen out and he needed to find replacements to help rescue two injured pilots.

The boys eagerly volunteered and lit up even more when they saw the rest of the PJs lined up and waiting for them dressed out in full battle gear. Not only were the boys named team leaders, they were issued kid-sized Air Force camouflaged uniforms, and pseudo military gear to join the team on a rescue mission. The men formed two teams with Trevor and Finnian leading the way. The teams boarded two awaiting Zodiac boats, making their rescue mission experience authentic.

The inflatable boats raced up the Banana River a short distance to "rescue" and medically treat the injured pilots; all the while fighting off "enemy attacks."

The boys and two sisters successfully treated, stabilized and moved the patients to the boats for their transfer back to the squadron while fending off several more enemy threats.

"My favorite part of the boat ride was that we got to fake fight!" said Finnian. Trevor had the same sentiments.

As the visit ended, the boys were lauded by the teams and asked to stand at attention in front of their families to take part in a special ceremony.

Ziegler read the creed that indoctrinates men from trainees to actual pararescuemen - naming the boys as honorary PJs, allowing them to wear the coveted maroon beret.

"These men were wonderful! Seeing the smiles on their faces while looking at the boys when we know they are away from their family for months and months at a time was just amazing," said Jody.