7/17/14--Coraopolis, Pa.--171 Air Refueling Wing -- Eight-year-old Joey Fabus became commander for a day at the 171st Air Refueling Wing here, July 17, 2014, fulfilling his childhood dream of joining the military. Joey, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, spent the day with members, completing various activities designed for his special day, before being awarded the 171st Medal for Bravery.
The idea to make Joey commander for a day began when Senior Airman Nicole Luben, wing personnel specialist, saw a fundraiser being held for him at a local event and recognized the last name as the same as a friend and coworker from the wing.
She then contacted Senior Airman Clarissa Fabus, Force Support Squadron, and learned that Clarissa was Joey's sister, said Luben.
"As I spoke with Senior Airman Fabus, she told me Joey's dream was to be in the military like his family members," said Luben. "In the Guard we take care of each other, so the Guard thing to do was to enlist Joey into our 171st family officially."
Joey's family at the wing includes his sister Clarissa, and three of his cousins: Staff Sgt. LeAnna Taracido, customer support liaison, Logistics Readiness Squadron, Staff Sgt. Keith Fabus, Security Forces Squadron and Staff Sgt. Brian Keller, Maintenance Squadron.
The days' events, organized and led by Captain Chris Preffer, Logistics Readiness Squadron, began with Fabus' "enlistment" into the Air National Guard.
"Just like your sister and your cousins had to do... the first thing we are going to do today is take the Oath of Enlistment," Preffer began.
Joey's family and friends, who call themselves, "Little Joey's Army," looked on as Joey, led by Mission Support Commander Colonel Mark Goodwill, raised his right hand and said the Oath- heavy words for his tiny voice to carry.
Fabus' day as commander continued as he was issued a flight suit, cap and his pilot wings, so he could not only act the part, but look the part as well.
After a tour of the weapons vault, Joey visited the Operations Squadron, where he worked on a mock deployment, giving him a better idea of what military life might be like.
A tour of a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft completed the days' activities. Joey played with the other kids and explored the aircraft, only stopping to pose for a photo in the pilot's seat.
Although the day was filled with smiles and laughter, the mood became somber as Joey took the stage to receive the 171st Medal for Bravery.
The memorandum read, "Joey Fabus has distinguished himself in a passionate display of bravery, while enduring austere conditions... Joey's courage during the past months has proven his stamina and developed him into the man he is today. Joey charged forward during truly demanding obstacles and continues to display great moral courage to overcome anything in his way. His valor and accomplishments during these past months reflects great credit upon himself, his family, the Air National Guard and the United States Air Force."
Civilians and military members alike struggled to hold back tears as Joey humbly accepted his medal, given by Maintenance Group Commander Colonel Thomas J. Hess.
He murmured, "Thank you," as he shook the Colonel's hand, his badge of bravery clearly visible against his tiny frame.
Joey was also given a flag that was flown over the installation in his honor July 16, 2014, and a framed print of all the 171st's aircraft nose art.
Joey's parents, David and Cindy Fabus, received an award as well. They held onto their son with pride as they received the Center of Influence Award, given to people who have made an influence on someone and made an impact on their life.
The award was given on behalf of the entire wing, for the inspirational stories heard and actions shown by the Fabus family, Preffer declared during the presentation of the award. "The real patriots and heroes are people like yourselves."
Colonel Hess' parting speech gave a fitting end to an emotionally charged ceremony.
"This is so hard," Hess began, his voice filled with emotion. "It's truly an honor... to get to know Joey and honor you for what you've been through, and your bravery, and on behalf of my wing commander, Colonel Metzgar, thank you so much for coming out and spending time with us today. It's truly our honor, and you've really demonstrated what it means to be brave."