Airmen help make dream come true for special fan

  • Published
  • By Capt. Shane Ellis
  • 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Capt. Dennis Conner, 701st Airlift Squadron, at Joint Base Charleston, flew a C-17 Globemaster III over the state’s coast during the “Salute From The Shore” celebration July 4. Little did he know the impact that flight that day would have for him, as well as a family watching from the shore, who would end up getting a private tour of the aircraft.

Meet Matt and Leslie Adkins and their two sons, Braiden, 12, and Jace, 4. Originally from Kentucky, the Adkins family moved to Charleston 14 months ago.

According to Matt, there were several reasons for the move.

“The cold weather made us want to move south and be near the water,” he said. “Braiden loves being near the ocean, and we have always had a fascination with planes. When we lived in Kentucky, we would hang out on the parking garage at Lexington airport, eat dinner and just let Braiden watch the airplanes. With a special-needs child, there is just not that much you can do like other people do. Moving to Charleston just worked for us.”

It’s all about access for the Adkins family because Braiden has cerebral palsy. One accessible pastime is watching planes take off into the sky.

“We love watching the planes take off in the sunset here,” Adkins said. “It’s calming and it’s something we all enjoy. And, now our youngest son, Jace, has taken off with it and he really loves airplanes, too.”

Adkins said he knew the beaches would be crowded on the Fourth of July so they ended up going to Melton Peter Demetre Park, with its scenic view of Charleston Harbor. He said it was perfect; they got a great view of the
F-16 Fighting Falcons, from Shaw Air Force Base, and a JB Charleston C-17 during the flyover. Matt shared video and photos on their social media page.

Conner went home after the flight and found his wife Jessica looking at social media posts people had made about the flyover.

“My wife was looking at all of the social media posts about the event when she came across the Adkins family and she goes, ‘hey, you should really look at this,’” he said. “I started looking at the post and I saw this family who had taken their son out in a wheelchair just to see the airplanes fly for the Fourth of July.”

Conner said he was moved by the video and decided to reach out to them on social media.

“I was really touched by the video of this family, who obviously loved their children and were willing to do whatever it took for their special-needs son to see the planes fly over,” Conner said. “So, I reached out to them and I sent them an invitation to get them face-to-face with us and to get a closer look at a jet. I really just wanted to show the family an awesome time.”

In the meantime, the Adkins family went to watch the fireworks later that night and it wasn’t until they were on their way home that Matt noticed he didn’t have very good cell service, but he could see that he had a message from a guy named Dennis. An hour later sitting in traffic in Mount Pleasant, he was able to finish reading the message.

“I almost dropped my phone,” Adkins said. “I could not believe the pilot of the C-17 we just saw earlier that day had messaged me. It blew my mind. I’m glad I wasn’t the driver. The message basically said, ‘Hi, I’m Dennis and I’m the pilot who was flying the C-17 you saw today.’ My initial reaction was, ‘no way, this is a hoax,’ and I stalked his social media page to see if he really was who he said he was. And, it was him!”

Of the unique situation, Leslie Adkins said, it’s amazing what social media can do.

“Our social media page works to promote accessibility and getting out and about with someone with special needs,” she said. “We posted on our page, then Dennis reached out to us, and here we are today getting a tour of a C-17 with all of these amazing men and women who worked to make this possible. It’s definitely a dream come true for all three boys and me.”

According to Conner, the tour was made possible by a great team of people at JB Charleston including members of the 315th and 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons, as well as the members of the security forces and fire department.

“Master Sgt. Chris Holland, 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was a big help and provided the family access to the aircraft hangar,” Conner said. “You look around and you see so many maintainers who nobody asked to come out here, but they were drawn to the occasion. Everyone wanted to help and participate just to make it happen for the family. It’s huge. The fire department, the police, our maintenance team, our loadmasters and our pilots; it’s actually very touching to see everyone come together and make this happen for a random family who they have no ties to here.”

Matt and Leslie said they were very excited to know that somebody cared so much to reach out to them, they are forever thankful and this will be a day to remember always.

Flights like the “Salute From the Shore” allow Reserve aircrews to train in a joint operating environment following a strict timetable on a planned course with other military branches.

Event organizers said their vision for the annual event is “To create an accessible opportunity for South Carolina beachgoers to honor our armed forces by organizing a ‘Salute from the Shore’ of a military flyover of the entire South Carolina coast each Independence Day. Our vision is to unite participants in a synchronized salute to our troops that will be shared across the nation and around the world.”