It was the coolest thing’ Local youngster named ‘pilot for a day’

Sue Kraft, Lifestyles Editor
Sean Clementich, 9, receives four star general pins from 1st Lt. Lee Teigen and 2nd Lt. Geoffrey Manter.

Journal Lifestyles Editor

When nine year-old Sean Clementich heads back to school today he will have plenty of stories to tell his friends.

Last Friday the youngster traveled to Fargo, where the N.D. Air National Guard made him a "pilot for a day."

"It was good," he said, beaming from ear to ear.

The program is designed for children with serious or chronic medical conditions and is meant to give them some of the joy they may have missed during their illness.

Sean was diagnosed with leukemia at age five but is currently cancer-free. He received his final treatment last October.

Sean's parents, Paul and Karen Clementich of Devils Lake, made the trip with their son and his siblings, twins Erin and Blair, 7. Also along for the ride were Sean's friend Matthew Alexander and his parents, Jeff and Terri.

"They treated all four of the kids so good," said Sean's mom Karen.

Paul said the group was greeted at the gate by two guards carrying M-16s. They escorted young Sean to a Humvee for the remainder of the ride, while the rest of the group traveled by van. He was immediately promoted to a four-star general and fitted with a flight suit.

The group remained on base for five hours, where they met a bomb squad robot, rode in a fire truck, watched jets take off from the control tower and tested emergency equipment.

"They got to test a floatation device they'd use if a plane crashed," Paul explained.

"If the plane got hit by a bogey," added Sean.

The youngster was also given the chance to fly a UAV Predator simulator and sit in the cockpit of a military plane. While other aircraft were flying overhead, Sean was able to communicate with them via radio.

"I talked to other planes that were in the air," he said excitedly.

The group was also able to visit with other pilots.

"We went to the place where most of the pilots hang out and eat doughnuts," Paul said.

"That was my favorite part!" chimed in Sean's little sister Erin.

The day wrapped up with a pizza party at the Fargo Air Museum.

"It was great," said Sean's mom of the experience. "You can't express how good it was. Money can't buy that."

"You couldn't wipe the smile off his face," added Paul. "They made him feel like a celebrity."

Karen said she was overwhelmed with the kindness shown by the members of the Air National Guard's 119th Wing.

"These strangers went out of their way to bring a little joy to him — and they were happy to do it," she said. "They all had smiles on their faces."

The "pilot for a day" program began in Texas in 1994 and has spread across the nation. Less than 10 children have been selected for the program in North Dakota thus far.

Paul said his son's name was submitted by the staff at MeritCare Hospital, where Sean has spent much of his last five years. The guard contacted them earlier this month and said he was selected and asked the parents to pick a date that would work — preferably before school started.

"It was the coolest thing," Paul said.