MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Nearly 20 aircrew members with the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Minot Air Force Base are sporting shaven heads to show their support for a young boy who is fighting cancer.
They are among aircrew members in squadrons globally who are shaving their heads in support of 5-year-old Brayden Mitchell of Brunswick, Ohio, who is going through chemotherapy.
Capt. Michael Devita, a B-52 training flight commander with the 23rd, said Brayden's father, Lt. Dave Mitchell, who was in his pilot training class at Luke AFB, Ariz., crashed in an F-16 and died in 2008. At the time, Mitchell's wife, Kristi, was pregnant and soon after gave birth to their son, Brayden.
ABOVE: Aircrew members from the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Minot Air Force Base with their newly shaven heads pose for a photo beside a B-52 bomber at the base Feb. 21, shown in this photo by Senior Airman Brittany Y. Auld.
TOP: Brayden Mitchell, 5, wears a flight suit that an aircrew member sent to him, shown in this Feb. 24 photo. Brayden’s dad was an F-16 pilot.
Brayden's mother, Kristi Mitchell, said Tuesday that her husband and Devita were best friends in pilot training. Dave Mitchell was in the Ohio Air National Guard with its 180th Fighter Wing.
About a month ago, Brayden was diagnosed with stage 3 Wilms tumor, a form of kidney cancer.
"One of the guys from my pilot training class came up with the idea to have his squadron, deployed to Afghanistan, shave their heads in support of Brayden," Devita said.
Brayden's mother contacted Devita a few days ago and told him that Brayden thinks "it's the coolest thing ever" that people are doing this for him. She asked Devita if he thought his squadron would be interested.
"I figured we would take it one step farther and take a picture with the shaved heads in front of the B-52," Devita said.
On Feb. 21, a Friday afternoon, Devita and about 16 other squadron members shaved each other's heads. The group then went to the flightline and stood in front of a B-52, where Senior Airman Brittany Auld, a photographer with the Minot AFB Public Affairs Office, took photos. a photo will be sent to young Brayden.
Kristi Mitchell said Brayden is in week four of 28 weeks of chemotherapy at the Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. Radiation and surgery also are ahead for him. She said he's doing well, his spirits are high and he's happy.
She said she'll read to him information on a Facebook page that was set up for him about what people are doing to support him. He's told her: "Everybody's doing this because they care about me."
"It's awesome to see the support of people. It's a tribute to Dave but also to Brayden," Kristi Mitchell said.