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Airman provides 'A New Hope' through charity

Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan poses for a portrait in his Star Wars Tie Fighter Pilot costume

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan, 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron fuel systems NCO in charge, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, pauses for a portrait in his Star Wars Tie Fighter Pilot costume Dec. 18, 2018, at the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Fagan is part of the 501st Legion, a community of Star Wars fans dedicated to building and wearing screen-accurate costumes. Fagan and the 501st Legion use the costumes for charity and volunteer work within their local communities. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp)

Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan poses for a portrait

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan, the 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron fuel systems NCO in charge, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, pauses for a portrait Dec. 18, 2018, at the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Fagan is part of the 501st Legion, a community of Star Wars fans dedicated to building and wearing screen-accurate costumes. Fagan has worn his costume and participated in approximately 200 local-charity events with other members from the 501st Legion. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp

Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan poses for a portrait

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan, the 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron fuel systems NCO in charge, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, is part of the 501st Legion, a community of Star Wars fans dedicated to building and wearing screen-accurate costumes. Fagan and the 501st Legion use the costumes for charity and volunteer work within their local communities. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Tony Harp)

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. --

A long time ago in a childhood far, far away ...

It was a period of formative learning. Chris Fagan, on the week of his FIFTH birthday, attended “STAR WARS: Episode IV, A New Hope” during its opening weekend. At the time, he did not understand the impact it would have on his life, but his PASSION for the epic space opera began at that early screening and would continue throughout the rest of his life. Little did he know, this PASSION would lead him to make such a POSITIVE IMPACT on many others along the way ...

Tech. Sgt. Chris Fagan, the 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron fuel systems NCO in charge, believes that if you have a passion or talent for something, it behooves you to do something with it, to share it with others.  

Fagan’s passion and fanfare for Star Wars led him to an altruistic opportunity. One day while searching for a Halloween costume, he stumbled upon a Star Wars Tie Fighter Pilot helmet. He decided to buy the helmet because he thought it was cool and wanted to wear it to a friend’s costume party. Over the next few years, the helmet occupied space on his shelf and was then boxed up and stored in the basement when he married. 

Around 2004 he found the helmet again and wondered if there was a way to create and assemble the whole costume. While doing research on building the costume, he found an organization named the 501st Legion. It was a community of Star Wars fans dedicated to building and wearing screen-accurate costumes. The organization mainly utilized the costumes for charity and volunteer work within their local communities. Fagan joined the 501st Legion and completed his Tie Fighter Pilot costume, giving him an outlet to share his passion with others and an opportunity to give back. 

Since joining the 501st Legion, Fagan has participated in approximately 200 events, or troops, as the organization calls them. The troops that Fagan attended were mostly planned visits to children hospitals, but also consisted of toy drives, autism awareness events, charity runs/walks or Make-A-Wish events. During these times, a variety of costumed Star Wars characters would be present to meet with children and hand out toys. 

“When I found this organization, it allowed me to bring a little bit of my passion to life, going from toy to real life,” said Fagan. “The fact that I can share that with other people, especially kids, is amazing. You get to meet so many people and these kids are awesome. I think that’s why I like it, because you see the strength that these kids have.”

Fagan reminisced about one of his first troops, a visit to the terminal wing of Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. There was a young boy, no older than six or seven years old. He was there with his mother, whom was a music teacher, and he was playing a piano. Fagan went on to describe how beautifully the boy was playing, stating that he was like a phenom on the piano. The boy stopped playing and told his mother that he wanted to play a certain song but he couldn’t play it because the piano they had was missing a key. His mother suggested that he play the song and just change the octave. The boy responded by saying that he could change the note, but he would eventually need it again for a different part.

“To watch his passion for playing the piano and his interaction with me, showed no fear or pain,” said Fagan. “He was very distinguished. I am not sure if he passed away or survived his illness. All I know is that he left that impression on me of such strength and character at such a young age.”

While not everyone they visit is a Star Wars fan, the emotion evoked is universal, both for the children and their families.

“We’ve had guys that didn’t even know what Star Wars was. They never watched it; they’re not science-fiction fans,” said Fagan. “They see us come into a hospital and the difference we make, if even for just that hour for those kids. There was a guy that actually joined. He went and bought a full-on Sandtrooper costume and he doesn’t even like Star Wars. But he joined because of what we did for his child, whom I believe sadly passed away. But that was his way of giving back, because he saw what we did and the look on his child’s face when we came in the room. So that’s the real reason why any of us stay. The people that get into it simply to have a costume, or they think the costume is cool, or they just want to do this appearance or go to a convention, they usually don’t stick around for that long.”

Fagan’s costume is one of the more sensible ones as far as versatility and maneuverability go. The base of it is black flight suit and other than a helmet and an armor chest-piece, he isn’t really encumbered or restricted by armor.

“What I do like about this costume is the fact that you can bend more,” said Fagan. “You can get down to the kids’ level with them and that usually takes a little of the intimidation away. Or you can goof around a little more or just sit right down on the floor with them. The more you can play, you know, the more you can make it less scary.”

He mentioned that while the helmets can be a little intimidating to some kids, the concept of you being in costume and playing a character can sometimes put the person at ease.  

“Another good part of the anonymity of this, is that they feel more free to share with you,” said Fagan. “I’ve gone on other charity things like motorcycle club or car club and you’re just there as a person and those kids don’t share with you that same way.”

Fagan mentioned there are quite a few military members and veterans within the 501st Legion and that it is an excellent community.

“There is a great community in the organization,” said Fagan. “We hang out, we are all friends. We recognize individuals who stand out within their community. Everyone supports everyone. There is no judging, your costume has to be a high standard, but that’s where the judging ends.”

Fagan understands that not everyone always shares or even understands his passion.

“This may be considered extreme for some people, to walk around like a plastic space-man, to share the love and passion for Star Wars,” said Fagan. “I’ve developed this since I was five, not everybody has had that. If you want to help somebody, how do you want to do that? I actually think that you can help somebody if you are passionate about it. That’s the best vehicle. People make decisions based on emotion and if you are serious and passionate about something, if you love something it’s going to show, even if you are wearing a mask. It’s going to show and people are going to gravitate to that.”

Senior Master Sgt. Spencer Schulz, the accessories element supervisor from the 193rd SOMXS, commented on Fagan’s mission to help others.

“Fagan is a passionate Airman, he believes in service before self,” said Schulz. “He’s always putting things he believes in before himself. Helping others, doing charity events and supporting the Children’s Miracle Network, it’s just who he is.”

Along with sharing his passion, Fagan also believes we are called to give our time and talent. This is inherent in his 25 years of military service and his commitment to the 193rd SOMXS mission.

“Even here, yeah it’s part of my job to train these young troops, but I would be remiss if I did not give them my best,” said Fagan. “I would be remised if I did not share my time and my talent with these Airmen. So it [your passion] can transcend anything, it can work for your job, it can work for your life, it can work for your hobbies, whatever the case may be.”