Child’s wish comes true at Coast Guard air station in Kodiak, Alaska

Lt. Kevin Winters, an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, explains the cockpit layout of the Jayhawk to Braeden Hahn, a resident of New Jersey and prospective Coast Guard helicopter pilot, at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, July 24, 2013. Baeaden is visiting Kodiak as part of the Make-A-Wish foundation's Alaska chapter, which has granted wishes for more than 500 children with life-threatening medical conditions who aspire to visit Alaska since 1986. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Lt. Kevin Winters, an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, explains the cockpit layout of the Jayhawk to Braeden Hahn, a resident of New Jersey and prospective Coast Guard helicopter pilot, at Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, July 24, 2013. Baeaden is visiting Kodiak as part of the Make-A-Wish foundation’s Alaska chapter, which has granted wishes for more than 500 children with life-threatening medical conditions who aspire to visit Alaska since 1986. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak hosted Braeden Hahn and his family during a two-day event sponsored by the Make-A-Wish foundation’s Alaska chapter, July 24, 2013, in Kodiak, Alaska.

Braeden, a resident of New Jersey and fan of the television series Coast Guard Alaska, suffers from aplastic anemia, a life-threatening disease in which the bone marrow and blood stem cells there are damaged, causing a deficiency in the reproduction of mature forms of our three different blood cell types: red, white and platelets.

However, this disease does not keep the 12-year-old from dreaming big. Braeden aspires to one day join the ranks of the men and women in the Coast Guard and become a full-fledged Coast Guard rescue helicopter pilot.

During their visit to Air Station Kodiak, Braeden and his family got a crash course in everything Coast Guard aviation, jam-packed with training, exercises and, most importantly, fun.

“Everybody (participating members of Air Station Kodiak) was on board and it was very neat to see everybody get excited about his visit,” said Lt. John Oscar, an Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules airplane pilot. “It was really fun to see everyone make this day special for Braeden.”

On the first day of Braeden’s visit he and his sister joined a team of aviation survival technicians, also known as rescue swimmers, at the base pool. There the swimmers gave Braeden a taste of the rigorous fitness routines and training they go through in order to stay in peak lifesaving shape.

Braeden donned an immersion suit, which is designed to protect a swimmer from cold water temperature, and jumped in the water with the rescue swimmers and participated in their workout. The workout included treading water, retrieving a brick from the deep end and swimming the width of the pool holding the brick. This gave Braeden an idea of what it would be like to drag a survivor through the water.

The rescue swimmers also put Braeden through submerged water egress training, or the SWET-chair for short. Braeden was buckled into a simulated helicopter cockpit, turned upside down in the water and taught how to escape, a challenge he accepted and completed. Once the training was over Braeden and the swimmers enjoyed a light-hearted high dive and water slide competition.

After the swim and a quick lunch with the pilots and friends, Braeden closed out his first day at Air Station Kodiak touring the three aircraft hangars and exploring the different aircraft housed there.

On day two of Breaden’s trip, he boarded an Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak boat and was treated to a front-row view of an Air Station Kodiak search and rescue demonstration. This is a view normally reserved for those in training or actually in need of Coast Guard assistance.

Crewmembers aboard a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter demonstrated their ability to lower a basket to a moving vessel to evacuate injured or sick personnel and to deploy and retrieve a rescue swimmer. However, the best was yet to come for Braeden shortly after lunch.

Out on the tarmac, Lt. Michael Ross, an Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter pilot, met Braeden and prepped him for the ride of his life. With their guest flying as the co-pilot, Ross and crew treated Braeden to an aerial tour of the northeastern portion of Kodiak Island, where a majority of the populations resides. From his special vantage point, Braeden saw everything from vast emerald mountain peaks teaming with mountain goats to pods of humpback whales.

Braeden Hahn, a visitor to Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak sponsored by the Make-A-Wish foundation, is saluted by top ranking Air Station Kodiak officials at a wing-pinning ceremony in Kodiak, Alaska, July 25, 2013. The wing pinning ceremony is a high Coast Guard honor and has been a naval tradition since 1917. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Braeden Hahn, a visitor to Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak sponsored by the Make-A-Wish foundation, is saluted by top ranking Air Station Kodiak officials at a wing-pinning ceremony in Kodiak, Alaska, July 25, 2013. The wing pinning ceremony is a high Coast Guard honor and has been a naval tradition since 1917. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

While he was away on his flight, and without his knowledge, a ceremony was prepared for Braeden’s return. Inside Hangar 1, every member of Air Station Kodiak stood in formation while Braeden received his aviation wings and became an honorary Coast Guard helicopter pilot.

“This was a very humbling experience to be able to hang out with Braeden and his family,” Oscar said. “It’s weird how you go through your day and kind of get run down or burnt out with the day-to-day, and then you meet Braeden and you realize that your job is somebody’s wish. I get to do this every day. It really brings everything into perspective.”

The evening of the Hahn family’s departure, several pilots came to the Kodiak Airport to say their goodbyes. The pilots of Air Station Kodiak practice a tradition of greeting new pilots arriving to Kodiak with all available officers on hand, and seeing them off the same way. Braeden, now a full-fledged member of the Air Station Kodiak wardroom, was paid the same respects and sent off in the same fashion any officer involved in Coast Guard aviation is sent off when they leave this duty station.

“Breaden is such a great kid,” said Oscar. “I couldn’t be happier that I could be a part of something great for such an amazing family.”