The World Famous Golden Dragons of Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-192 gave Children’s Hospital Central California outpatients, their families and Hospital staff an up-close look of their squadron when they hosted their visit to Naval Air Station Lemoore on June 28.
The 15 visitors toured the squadron’s hangar spaces and watched high-speed F/A-18 Hornets practice landing from the edge of one of the air station’s two runways. Just yards away, pilots performed impressive touch-and-go landings in a small space on the runway that emulates an aircraft carrier deck.
“I especially like watching the jets fly up and in a circle!” said Ally Woodyatt, 10, of Exeter whose father, Shawn, is a helicopter pilot for the US Army National Guard. Ally began receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital last year when a metabolic disease left her paralyzed. Her paralysis continues to improve.
Standing by her daughter’s side, Joanna Woodyatt said, “The power of the jets is amazing! Usually the closest you get to a plane landing or taking off is at a commercial airport. This is neat to be so close."
The visitors interacted with various members of VFA-192, including squadron leaders, fighter pilots and sailors who maintain their F/A-18s. Other activities ranged from night vision goggles and flight gear demonstrations to sitting inside an F/A-18 Hornet cockpit. Many of the visitors asked questions. “I love what I do and enjoy talking about it,” said pilot Lt. Topher Chapelle.
The day prior to the base visit, VFA-192 performed a Federal Aviation Administration and Navy-approved flyover at Children’s Hospital. The event commemorated the Hospital’s 60th anniversary later this year of providing high-quality, specialized pediatric care for the region, including countless Navy families.
“The flyover was great and we really enjoyed seeing the squadron,” said Michelle Gifford of Fresno, who attended both events with her husband, Ryan, and their 6-year-old son, Jordan. “It’s nice that these kinds of things are available. We learned a lot and have a better understanding of the base.”
Born with multiple limb deformities, Jordan receives complex primary care at the Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. “I had a lot of fun!” he said excitedly. “I especially liked the jet (cockpit).”
“All of you are heroes to us – the patients, families and staff at Children’s,” Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, executive officer, VFA-192, told the group. “The flyover and tour are a small way of saying thank you and showing our support and gratitude for the skilled and compassionate team at Children’s.”
Initially inspired by the treatment his young daughter received at Children’s emergency department, Bernacchi wanted to give back. In May, he brought about a dozen members of his squadron to visit the Hospital’s Craycroft inpatient unit. A meaningful experience for everyone involved, Dr. David Christensen, Children’s chief medical officer, had said, “We hope this is one of many events we do with the Lemoore base.”
“The Golden Dragons’ generosity is heart-warming and the camaraderie we’ve been building is excellent,” said Dr. Robert Kezirian, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s, and University of California, San Francisco-Fresno pediatric program director, who participated in the base visit. “In the end, it’s all about making things better for the kids. No one kneels as tall as he who kneels to help a child.”