Teenager Michelle McConnell has battled bone cancer and amputation with a strength and tenacity that left no doubt among her family or the U.S. Air Force that she was tough enough to become a combat-trained Airman for a Day.
When the 15-year-old made the request through Make-A-Wish Utah, Hill Air Force Base (AFB) enthusiastically mobilized to turn the dream into reality, providing McConnell an unforgettable afternoon of military training, leadership, and excitement.
McConnell said her desire stemmed from participating in a prior Pilot for A Day program on base and her admiration for those who wear the uniform.
“I was shocked and amazingly excited when I found out that my Air Force wish was going to be granted,” she said.
The day began when McConnell’s limousine arrived at 75th Air Base Wing headquarters where she was issued a personalized camouflage uniform and enjoyed pizza, root beer, birthday cake, and gifts with her family and senior Air Force leaders.
After lunch, McConnell visited Hill AFB’s Fire Station 4 where she was trained and fitted with a protective suit, gloves, and helmet before traveling by fire truck, sirens blaring, to help douse the flames of a controlled training blaze.
McConnell then visited the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team where she learned about the critical role EOD technicians play in keeping warfighters safe at home and abroad. McConnell impressed spectators with her skills in operating one of the robots used in high-tech ordnance disposal.
McConnell’s afternoon also included a visit to the 75th Security Forces Squadron, where she was invited to ride along in a patrol car during a routine traffic stop.
At each location, McConnel learned a coveted unit coin for her courage and determination. During the last stop of the day, Team Hill’s Honor Guard conducted a flag-folding ceremony and presented McConnell a flag flown in her honor over the state capitol building.
“It makes your heart sing to watch your child take in every single moment of an experience like this,” said Michelle’s mother, Andrea McConnell.
Make-A-Wish Utah wish coordinator Christina Wright explained that research shows children who have wishes granted build the emotional and physical strength necessary to fight critical illnesses.
“Hill Air Force Base took Michelle’s idea and created a magical day that is going to give her the grit to keep fighting,” Wright said.
For more information about Make-A-Wish America, visit https://wish.org.
This article is based on an original story by Jennifer Eaton.
TOP IMAGE: Michelle McConnell and her family attend a flag-folding ceremony. U.S. Air Force image by Cynthia Griggs. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement.