Pictured: Alejandro Daniel Garza poses for the cameras as he sits in a T-34C trainer Tuesday at NAS Kingsville. Photo by CHRISTOPHER MAHER
10-year-old Alice boy suffering from Hodgkins Lymphoma
Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal
KINGSVILLE - As Alejandro Daniel Garza put on his flight helmet for the first time, the naval aviators standing around him began shouting out valuable tips.
"Show us your pilot pose," one suggested.
After receiving a quick demonstration, the 10-year-old Alice student quickly flashed a smile and two thumbs up, as flash bulbs went off all around him.
Garza was receiving the instruction Tuesday as the guest of NAS Kingsville's Pilot for a Day Program, sponsored in cooperation with Driscoll Children's Hospital.
Daniel started his day with a briefing in the ready room of VT-22, and moved on to the paraloft, where he was given his own flight suit and was allowed to try on a G-suit and all the survival equipment worn by pilots.
He was also given clear instructions on how to pose for pictures like a pilot.
Daniel initially began with the two-thumbs up method, but after careful instruction by his hosts, he quickly moved on to placing his hands on his hips, sticking out his chest and flashing a grin.
Throughout the day, Daniel had plenty of opportunities to practice his poses, as he moved from the paraloft to the base operations, to the flight line for a walk-around of several planes and then on to the simulator building. In the simulators, Daniel received his biggest cheers from his pilot hosts as he successfully "landed" his jet on an aircraft carrier on just his third try.
Alex Garza, Daniel's father, said Daniel was diagnosed in March with Hodgkins Lymphoma, after a teacher at Memorial Intermediate School noticed some lumps on his neck.
He is currently undergoing chemotherapy, and requires frequent blood transfusions, which leaves him weak and open to infection.
The past two months have been extremely trying for the Garza family, but Alex said the staff of Driscoll Children's Hospital and those at NAS Kingsville helped them through the process.
"These people really go over and beyond their duties to make sure these kids get to experience something they normally wouldn't," Garza said. "They keep their spirits lifted, and they help in every way possible."
Watching Daniel's face light up with each new event, Garza said he could tell his son was having a great time.
"It means the world to him. Every day he's been talking about it. He wants to be a pilot," Garza said. "He's always had an interest in the military, for as long as I can remember."
As for Daniel, he said flying the simulator was definitely the highlight of his day, and far exceeded any of the video games he has at home.
"It was a lot better," Daniel said. "It was fun."
Maj. Matt "Ami" Amidon, USMC (Res.) helped bring the Pilot for a Day program to Kingsville a year ago, after participating in Corpus Christi's program.
He said it was exciting to see that even after a year of hosting the program, everyone at NAS Kingsville still has a passion for reaching out to the community.
"We're very proud of our mission here, and we have great people working here at the base, but sometimes you do get a little isolated, in terms of your contact with the local public," Amidon said. "It's really a great way for us to establish a working relationship with the locals, and a great way for us to show off where their tax dollars are going."
More than just connecting with the community, Amidon said, everyone at NAS Kingsville is most proud about connecting with children like Daniel.
"It's a rewarding thing for us to be able to show off what we do and to be a big part of his life as well," Amidon said. "It's something he'll never forget."