Tommy's Tanker Tour

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Shannon Mann
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing

Tommy Judge has wanted to be a pilot nearly his entire life.


Of course, he’s only six-years-old, but in late June members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base made a little boy’s dream come true…even if only for a day.


While Tommy is like most other boys his age who dream of being pilots, police officers and baseball players, he has one big difference. Tommy was born with a genetic disorder called DiGeorge Syndrome that caused a heart defect, cleft lip and palate and a laryngeal web. He struggles with developmental delays and feeding issues.  


His challenges have not changed his passions though, and his love for all things planes started at a young age.


“I think what sealed the deal was an event called “Free to Be Me” in Greenville a few years ago,” said Bobbie Judge, Tommy’s mother. “Volunteers give kids with chronic and critical illnesses a ride in a small airplane. Something about airplanes just gives him a sense of peace and happiness.”


Tommy, and his sister Rosemary, spent two hours with crew members of the Reserve and active duty flying wing.


Senior Airman Arturo Gac, 911th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, was one of Tommy’s tour guides.


Tommie loves airplanes and to show him and his family around was a great experience,” said Gac. “We showed them around the aircraft, took him inside and let him see what the cockpit looks like, as well as let him sit in the pilot’s chair.”


Gac said he also took him to the back of the plane where the refueling happens and let him check out the boom pod and look out the windows. “He was ecstatic,” Gac said. “He didn’t want to leave.”


A favorite part of the tour for Tommy’s sister was meeting a female pilot.


1st Lt. Molly Timmerman, 911th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, assisted with Tommy’s special tour. Timmerman said that Tommy’s mom explained his condition and that he doesn’t necessarily show emotion.


Timmerman said that Tommy didn’t want to jump in the cockpit at first, but once they convinced him his eyes lit up and he eagerly moved rudder pedals and yokes and pushed buttons as Timmerman “flew” with him.


Timmerman said this type of static display invigorates the crew and gives them a renewed sense of appreciation for their jobs.


“Giving back to the community and demonstrating what we do is fun. A tour like this one is more than fun however, it is gratifying,” said Timmerman. “To be able to provide even the smallest amount of positivity in Tommy’s life is worth every hour of training and studying.”


Joy was an understatement for the day. Judge explained that symptoms of her son’s condition are anxiety and depression. His daily schedule can be filled with doctor’s appointments and therapies, leaving little time for a boy to find joy in a summer break.


Seeing him enjoy something he loves warms my heart,” said Judge. “One way to help balance the tough times is with good experiences, and this tour meant so much to us.”