Luke AFB makes Mesa teen honorary pilot The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Luke AFB makes Mesa teen honorary pilot

January 21st, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
Luke AFB makes Mesa teen honorary pilot

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Tribune Staff Writer

Liam Marshall is obsessed with the Air Force, particularly its airplanes.

The autistic 13-year-old Mesa boy watches videos about the Air Force and plays flight simulator games on his tablet.

His seizure helmet is covered with patches given to him by pilots. His favorite movies are “Top Gun,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Midway” and “Air Force One.”

“He watches these whole movies because he likes to see all the planes in them,” said his mother, Megan Marshall. “He’s learning about history while he’s watching movies and seeing the different types of fighter jets and planes.

“He goes through phases of things that he’s interested in and most of them are really difficult. This has been a really easy, fun one.”

So, when the Make-a-Wish Foundation loosened its rules for wishes, Megan inquired about doing something for Liam.

Recently, the Marshalls, along with Megan’s boyfriend, Dave Bashaw, visited Luke Air Force Base so the teen could be a pilot for a day. One of the sergeants, Sgt. Alex Kim, coordinated the efforts as she is a Make-a-Wish volunteer.

The family met the squadron in a briefing room and Lt. Col. Thomas Hayes, 61st Fighter Squadron commander, designated Liam an honorary fighter pilot for a day.

Liam was presented with a real flight suit tailored especially for him. He also received a framed, autographed photo of the squadron, reserved for pilots who complete the program.

They then took the group to see two F-35 planes, one of which carried Liam’s name for a day.

“Liam got to inspect the plane and then they let us drive out on a closed runway,” Megan said. “Then, they let him get out and watch the plane take off.

“We had a pizza party, and the other pilots came in to show us their G-suits and their helmets. It was such a major day. He literally wears his flight suit every single day. I tell him, ‘You have to let me wash it.’”

Liam was born with 16p11.2 duplication, which causes low weight, small head size (microcephaly) and developmental delay, especially in speech and language.

At 4 months old, he was diagnosed with autism. He’s also prone to seizures and has cerebral palsy.

“The seizures have been the worst and that’s been the hardest thing to deal with,” Megan said. “We’ve had emergency room visits in the past couple of months from him falling and hurting himself from the seizures.”

He attends Lauren’s Institute for Education in Gilbert via virtual learning to keep him safe.

“His seizures are triggered by startles, mostly,” Megan said. “So, when you’re in a roomful of kids and you’re getting bumped into, he’ll be having seizures all day long. They’ve extended the virtual learning for medically complicated kids. He qualifies for that.”

Because of the autism, Liam becomes easily obsessed, according to Megan. He has read up on streetlamps, fire alarms and palm trees. 

“I would buy him landscaping books and he could tell you the Latin name for this species or that species,” she said. “He watches a lot of videos on YouTube or documentaries. That’s what he does now with planes.”

Liam fell in love with them when a family friend invited him to see airplanes at Mesa Gateway Airport.

“It would be 110 degrees and we’d be out there standing, feeling and hearing the jet blast when the planes would turn,” Megan said.

“But he loved meeting the pilots and that’s been his thing all summer and it’s still going strong.”

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