WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 30, 2013) -- A group of 24 military and civilian volunteers from Program Executive Office Soldier helped terminally ill children and their families experience night vision and Soldier protective equipment as part of United Airlines' 21st annual Fantasy Flight, Dec. 7, at Dulles International Airport.

The Fantasy Flight is a yearly effort in which terminally ill children from Children's Hospice International go to Dulles International Airport to board a flight to meet Santa Claus at the "North Pole."

During the event, the PEO Soldier personnel put the same science, technology and passion they employ in developing clothing and equipment for Soldiers into creating a unique Christmas experience for the children.

Altogether, 77 sick children, 60 of their siblings and 140 parents boarded a United Airlines jet for a flight that took off on a Saturday morning and then later landed and discharged them into a terminal that had been decorated to resemble the North Pole -- home of Santa Claus.

The flight marked the 22nd anniversary of the flights, which were initiated in London in 1991, and launched at Dulles a year later by United Airlines. The Fantasy Flight concept has spread to 46 different domestic and international locations. This is the fourth year PEO Soldier has participated in the event.

The PEO Soldier team, which included family members as well as PEO Soldier employees, helped the children and their family members use advanced night vision technology in a specially equipped dark room. The team also let children and adults don helmets and body armor, race tiny solar-powered toy cars, and see the world using thermal sights.

The PEO Soldier team attended in coordination with the Army's Office of the Surgeon General. The OTSG also organized participation of the Lake Braddock High School National Honor Society and the United States Marine Corps' Chemical Biological Incident Response Force. The Marines brought two robots to the event, one of which was carrying a plush toy skunk by its tail.

The Fantasy Flight included its usual eclectic mix of volunteers, including United Airlines employees, firefighters and police. Also on scene were various musical performers, including local cast members of "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown," and "Annie," who performed numbers from their shows. Between these sets, a band played old and new Christmas songs while a roaming group of madrigal singers in Renaissance costume performed traditional and modern Christmas songs.

Mingled with the performers and children were the giant presidential mascots of the Washington Nationals, a pair of Washington Redskin cheerleaders, Cinderella, and various children's television characters such as Tweety Bird, SpongeBob SquarePants, Elmo, and Big Bird.

Several organizations and businesses provided free giveaways, including T-shirts, hats, and DVDs. Chik-Fil-A, Peeps and Dunkin Donut provided food.

The highlight of the event was the entrance of Mr. and Mrs. Claus. After Santa Claus took his place on his chair, he distributed a set of presents to every child.

Fiona Shrimpton, who works for Program Office Soldier Sensors and Lasers volunteered for the Fantasy Flight along with her husband, Col. Dan Shrimpton, and her three daughters.

"At the end of the day, my oldest summed up her experience, 'It is heartbreaking to know just how sick some of these children are, but it is wonderful, even for just a few minutes, to help them smile,'" she said.

"I am proud of the effort our team put into this year's Fantasy Flight," said Col. Robert Mortlock, Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment.

He and Sloane, Project Manager Soldier Sensors and Laser, put together the team for the Fantasy Flight.

"The U.S. Army exists to serve. Fantasy Flight gave the men and women of PEO Soldier an opportunity to serve our fellow citizens. We are grateful we had a chance to participate," he said.

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