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Joint Base Charleston team recognizes teenager’s resilience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs
The 628th Air Base and 437th Airlift Wings hosted an Airman for a Day event here Oct. 2, 2017, to recognize a teenage girl for the resilience she demonstrated during her battle with cancer.

Master Sgt. Caroline Bunce, 628th Medical Group registered dental hygienist, was looking for a child interested in learning what it’s like to be an Airman for Joint Base Charleston’s Airman for a Day event. Thanks to her volunteer work with Courageous Kidz, a non-medical organization focusing on families devastated by childhood cancer, and her communication with joint base leadership, Bunce found Sandrea Hershey, 14 years old.

Hershey was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and spent approximately 170 days in the hospital undergoing treatment. Hershey fought back, managed to complete all her school work and had her final treatment last month. Lori Hershey, Sandrea’s mother, was excited when she heard her daughter was selected as Joint Base Charleston’s Airman for a day.

“I just wanted her to experience something that people normally can’t. I wanted her to have a comparison to understand the military in case she wants to do it,” said Lori. “I just want her to experience something civilians don’t usually get to.”

After donning an honorary flight suit adorned with the patches of Joint Base Charleston, Hershey, her mother and her friend Justin Pippin, also 14 years old, headed out to get a closer look at the joint base’s day-to-day mission.

“It truly is a win-win opportunity,” said Capt. Keane Carpenter, 437th Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster III pilot. “Here was a chance to come together and serve a very special member of our community and to generate pride within our units. The outstanding professionals who make up our wings were able to showcase the fun aspects of their jobs while Sandy was able to have a unique experience. The people on this base who get what it means to serve were highly motivated to brighten the day of this very brave girl and her family.”

Hershey observed a military working dog demonstration, met Phoenix Ravens from the 628th Security Forces Squadron, toured a C-17 Globemaster III with Airmen from the 14th Airlift Squadron and tested her piloting skills in a C-17 flight simulator.

“During the times each Airman got to spend showing their specific skill-set and to hear the excitement and passion each team member brought with them was rewarding,” said Bunce. “The goal of Courageous Kidz is to help pick up the pieces when life goes awry, restore normalcy and give the magic of hope. Our team members of Joint Base Charleston did just that.”

Senior Airman Jasmina Gantt, 628th MDG Dental Clinic oral preventative assistant, has volunteered more than 100 hours for Courageous Kidz and worked several months to coordinate the Airman for a Day event.

“All the kids have captured my heart and I love the opportunity,” said Gantt. “I love to help them as best as I can. The most rewarding things are definitely the smiles I get from them. Seeing their faces just light up is definitely the main thing keeping me going. They’re definitely very strong individuals and they motivate me and push me to be a better person.”

At the end of the day, Hershey, her mother and friend, met with Col. Jeffrey Nelson, 628th ABW commander, Col. Jimmy Canlas, 437th AW commander, and Col. Patrick Winstead, 437th AW vice commander, at the installation's headquarters building. After exchanging greetings, Nelson, with Hershey’s help, unveiled her photo displayed in the first floor hall titled, “Airman for a Day.”

“Everything was really exciting,” said Hershey. “Thank you for this experience and allowing us to have this adventure.”