U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo., April 22, 2009 - For eight years, Academy cadets have been making wishes come true for ill youngsters.
They made it happen again April 9 through Saturday when Joe Hayford, 13, became the newest Cadet for a Day through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"His eyes were huge, and he never quit smiling," said Wish volunteer Maggie Appenzeller.
Accompanying Joe was his family--brother, Shane, 17, and parents, Chong Mi and Keith for the three-day event sponsored by Cadet Squadron -4.
Wish volunteer Peggy Nightingale said the schedule and content are kept secret from Cadets for a Day until events are happening.
"We try to keep everything a surprise," she said.
The family kicked off events with breakfast in the air traffic control tower observation deck before tours of the tower, gliders and hangers.
Then it was off to the Aero Club for a complimentary flight. Maybe.
With the cloud ceiling at a mere 700 feet, the flight appeared all but off. Firefighters with the Academy Fire Station 3 next door to the Aero Club stepped up and treated Joe to an in-depth tour of an engine and the newly-renovated station.
Then the clouds literally parted on command, and Joe and Shane took off.
"All I had to do was control the plane," Joe said modestly.
It was the third Wish flight for pilot Wayne Morse, a.k.a. "Santa" for his white beard.
"I have kids of my own," he said. "I'm a sucker, and it gives the kids some joy in their life."
Ironically, it was April 10, exactly one year earlier, that Joe received a diagnosis of leukemia.
After the brief flight, Joe and his brother got a taste of the cadets' 32 hours of ground training before parachuting as they hitched up on training harnesses.
"It's like a really good swing," Joe said.
Later events included hanging out with his new squad mates, leading noon meal formation, lunch on the staff tower, tour of the chapel and visit to simulators. The 10th Security Forces working dogs Rocky and Kelly bared their pearly whites during a demonstration of their patrol skills.
Before heading home, the family visited the falcon mews.
For Cadet 3rd Class Krystal Sweitzer, working with the foundation is a natural.
"I absolutely love the Make-A-Wish Foundation," she said. "They gave my best friend her wish, and I've always wanted to back to it."
Cadet Squadron 4 vied against 22 other squadrons to host the event.
"This is such a great squadron," said Air Officer Commanding Maj. Jill Whitesell. "This is a unique and rewarding experience for us. We're so blessed to have Joe today."
It was the first Academy wish visit for volunteer Adrian Walton.
"I'm just blown away," he said of the cadets. "They go the extra nine yards. I feel very humbled by the whole event."
Mrs. Hayford said her younger son is something of a comedian.
"I was always afraid he would turn into the class clown," she said of Joe who enjoys movies, music, video games, skateboarding and especially sleepovers with friends.
She was pleased both boys seemed to relish all the events.
"This is a wonderful, wonderful trip," she said.
Mr. Hayford reflected on the weekend after the family's arrival home in Louisville, Colo.
"Joe had an amazing time," he said, and added the family's official wish from the Foundation was a trip to Hawaii. "We came away from the Academy with more fun. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The weekend for Cadet 1st Class Christie Wise was wistful. She has served as a Cadet in Charge for the Make-A-Wish events for three years. She heads off to pilot training after graduation.
"I'm sad, and I will definitely miss it," she said. "It's one of the best programs at the Academy. It makes a difference in children's lives, and we cadets have a great time."