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'Wizard' takes flight as High Rollers’ first pilot for a day

By 2nd Lt. Emerson Marcus | 152 Airlift Wing | Jan. 13, 2020

RENO, Nev. – Every pilot gets a call sign, but they don't get to pick.

Within hours of his commission, Capt. Tennyson William Hunter, 13, received four finalists for his call sign: Kittens Mittens, Chef, Lotto and Wizard.

First, for his love of cats. Second, because he enjoys baking. Third, given that the 152nd Airlift Wing "hit the jackpot" recruiting him into the ranks and fourth because Hunter is a fan of the J.K. Rowling book and movie series "Harry Potter."

It was a tough choice, but in the end, members of the 152nd Airlift Wing decided "Wizard" should take flight.

The naming of Hunter's call sign – announced during a ceremony in front of more than 150 Nevada Air Guardsmen in the Wing's auditorium – was one of several events Hunter experienced during the 152nd Airlift Wing's inaugural pilot-for-a-day program Dec. 16 at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. Pilot for a day is an Air Force-wide program that provides chronically ill children a chance to enter Air Force life.

Hunter, or "Tenny" as many call him, has Kabuki syndrome, a congenital disorder triggered by a genetic mutation that affects multiple organ systems and causes developmental delays. He has had more than a dozen surgeries throughout his life.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to have him out at the base because it showed all of our members the resiliency someone can have," said Tech. Sgt. Sean Bird, a life support specialist with the 152nd Airlift Wing. "It definitely put things in perspective."

Bird outfitted Hunter with his own flight suit with nameplate and patches provided by members of the base at no cost to the government.

Renown Children's Hospital nominated Hunter to be a Nevada Air National Guard Pilot for a Day.

"This event brought the base together and added perspective for each and every member of the High Rollers," said Senior Master Sgt. Paula Macomber, 152nd Airlift Wing public affairs manager, who oversaw the organization of the unit's first pilot-for-a-day program. "I was shocked and humbled that so many of my coworkers put so much care and energy into making this an unforgettable event."

The day started with Hunter taking a one-day oath of commission. Pilots briefed him on his "classified" mission before he received a tour of the 152nd Airlift Wing's C-130 aircraft. Hunter also visited the base firehouse, security forces and the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control tower before the day concluded with his retirement ceremony in the Wing headquarters' auditorium.

"Special things like this transcend many of our day-to-day tasks," said Maj. Joseph Jaquish, who briefed Hunter's mission and organized his call-sign ceremony. "The Air Force focuses a lot on metrics, data and other numbers, but some projects go beyond numbers. You can't quantify this. It was much bigger than that. It felt so nice to be part of something special."

Jaquish added: "What made the day so enjoyable was that Capt. Hunter was such a wonderful kid. I don't want people to lose sight of that. Renown did a good job nominating him for this event."

Macomber said the 152nd Airlift Wing plans to organize a pilot-for-a-day event annually at the base.