By Kathie Rowell
Whether assisting with a “Pilot for a Day” experience for a critically ill child or organizing a fundraiser for a veteran in need, Maj. George “Geo” Onyenyeonwu, USAF (Ret), finds joy in easing the burdens of others.
“We know that we are here on this planet to do things like this, and I can't stop,” he said.
MOAA Life Member Onyenyeonwu — who enlisted in the Navy in 1995, was commissioned as a medical service corps officer in the Air Force in 2000, and retired in 2015 after leadership roles in Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Great Britain and Washington, D.C. — has always made a point of giving back.
Now management and program analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Records Modernization Integration Office, he also serves as vice president of the Check-6 Foundation.
“The Check-6 mission is to provide aid, assistance, experiences, purpose, inspiration, and hope to children battling serious illness or medical conditions and to military veterans in need,” he said.
The foundation’s name is a reference to the aviator practice of checking his wingman’s 6 o’clock position to be sure it is free of threat.
One of the foundation’s main missions is the “Pilot for a Day” program for ill children. Twice a year, a child is invited for an experience that begins with a ceremony at the National Harbor in Maryland before he or she dons a personalized flight suit and heads to Joint Base Andrews for a day that includes aircraft tours, a flight simulation, and a visit to the air traffic control tower. The foundation has also recently begun offering this program at Scott AFB, Ill., and other bases across the country are expected to follow.
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“When you do the things that we do, it kind of makes the family feel like all the pain in this world has been taken away. And that's the goal for me — to make sure that whatever I'm doing is making a difference in people's lives. When I see them talking and laughing and smiling about what we just did, it gives me joy.”
Check-6 also supports veterans in a variety of ways. Onyenyeonwu recently helped organize a fundraiser for a veteran undergoing treatment for breast cancer. In another instance, the foundation paid off bills for a struggling veteran who was being evicted and helped relocate her across the country to a better situation.
“I enjoy doing things that would make people feel good about themselves and feel like a load has been taken off their shoulders,” he said.
Col. Rob Balzano, USAF (Ret), founded Check-6 Foundation in 2006 and later asked Onyenyeonwu to come on board because of their shared passion for helping others.
“He's got a tremendous heart [and] contagious positive energy and just makes things happen, and he does it from the bottom of his heart,” Balzano said. “He just really, really reaches out and connects with people and just does wonderful things for the children and families that we support. He is the true definition of a wingman.”
Kathie Rowell is a writer based in Louisiana.