Cadet, cancer patient realizes dream of flying

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
In between chemotherapy treatments, a 16-year-old Air Force Junior ROTC student joined the Air Force Reserve Command's 920th Rescue Wing for the thrill of flight.
"Absolutely amazing, best thing I've done in a long time," Coleton Wells said as he disembarked from one of the 920th RQW's HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters.

Zachary Kalish, Wells' best friend and also a Junior Air Force ROTC student at Vero Beach High School, Fla., saw firsthand the suffering his friend was going through and wanted to make a difference.

"Coleton's dream is to become an Air Force pilot, and with his sickness ... I wanted him to at least experience a flight in a military aircraft," Kalish said. "We've been best friends for years; it's the least I could do."

Kalish hit a few roadblocks along the way, but that didn't deter the determined cadet.

"I contacted Air Force recruiting and was turned down, I then asked my (JROTC) commander and chief for advice, and they said they hadn't heard of a program that would allow this," Kalish said. "I then decided to call the 920th RQW direct."

Kalish's persistence paid off, on the other end of the line was Ms. DeAnn Houck, the 920th RQW executive assistant, who set up the day.

"I feel anyone's life that is touched by cancer is challenged in a way others can't imagine," Houck said. "If we can give a young cancer patient a day of joy and wishes come true, what a gift we've given to them and their family."

The cadet's day started just like any other Air Force flight crew member. After a mission brief, the cadets were escorted to the aircrew flight equipment section where they were outfitted with flight vests, helmets and floatation devices. The 45-minute flight plan took the cadets north, giving them a bird's eye view of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the surrounding area.

"It was totally awesome, I wish I had a flight every day," Kalish said.

"I have stage 4 cancer which is highly aggressive -- which is a good thing ... chemo eats it up pretty quick," Wells said. "The chemo, after six weeks, had eaten it in half."

Sarcomas are cancers that develop from connective tissues in the body, such as muscles, fat, bones, membranes that line the joints, or blood vessels. There are many types of sarcomas. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer made up of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles.

Even after the adrenaline of flight has long worn off, the memories of the day will stick with the cadets for years to come.

"This meant everything to me, all my life I've wanted to spend 20 some-odd-years flying or serving in the U.S. Air Force, it's something I've always wanted to do," Wells said. "To be able come out here today and get geared up, fly in a helicopter and see what you guys do is phenomenal."

Not only will Wells remember his day with the 920th RQW for a long time to come, but the actions of his best friend will forever be engrained in his heart.

"What Zach did for me today was amazing; I was at a loss for words when I found out he was calling (the unit)," Wells said. "When you're on this side of the cancer, your mind is so locked on getting it done; you forget about what people do for you ... this was eye opening."

Also touched were the many Airmen of the 920th RQW twho played a role in setting up the day or had the pleasure to meet Wells and Kalish.

"The real one who started this whole thing is Zack. He is the epitome of a true friend and wanted to give Coleton something he didn't know was within his reach," Houck said. "I saw tears in the eyes of our senior leaders that day. Coleton and Zack's friendship touched us all."

Editor's note: Coleton is very positive that his chemotherapy is on track and will win this battle. Air Force regulations allow for the cadets to fly on a local training mission at no additional cost to the tax payer due to their affiliation with the Air Force Junior ROTC program.