Willie Presley loves anything with engines -- like cars, trucks and motorcycles. Now he's added airplanes to his list. As the Academy's newest Cadet for a Day, the 10-year-old from Wheatridge, Colo., was feted with, among other events, a ride aboard one of the Academy Aero Club's Cessna aircraft.
"I loved it. It was awesome," he said of the flight during which he held the yoke for the takeoff, flew the plane and talked to the tower. Cadets in Cadet Squadron 02 officially sponsored the fourth grader through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The two and a half-day visit began Sept. 18.
"Willie definitely loved the aero lab because he loves engines," said Cadet 1st Class Christy Wise. "Normally, he was pretty shy, but there he was talking up a storm and scooting around everywhere in his wheelchair."
The Make-A-Wish group also arranged for a bedroom makeover themed with the Baltimore Colts for Willie, who is afflicted with muscular dystrophy. Cadets greeted Willie, his father, James "Duke," and sisters, Taylor and Garry, Thursday evening, and activities and visits began in earnest the next day. The first stop was the airfield, where Willie saw his name inscribed on a glider at the 94th Flying Training Squadron and toured the tower. Parachutists from the 98th FTS put on a jump demonstration and showed the family the ins and outs of parachuting and its equipment. The military working dogs from the 10th Security Forces put on a show, after lunch on the staff tower, and Willie later enjoyed tours of the base fire department and biology and aero departments in Fairchild Hall.
Cadets from CS-02 secretly planned a carnival for the squadron and family at the end of the day, complete with pizza, cotton candy, a moon jump and sumo suits.
The family enjoyed a ride to Saturday's game against Utah in Falcon Stadium with the Falcons, tailgate kick-off and pre-game festivities on the field. Willie took home the game ball. Cadet 2nd Class Gina Koenigsberger, CS-10, got a kick out of showing the family around the 98th FTS.
"It's so much fun and a huge perk," she said and added Willie's sisters showed interested in possibly attending the Academy. "I feel a little special to be a girl on the team and can inspire young ladies," the Wings of Blue member said.
Cadet 2nd Class Stephen Grace, CS-02, also enjoyed being part of the family's weekend. "I got involved with Cadet for a Day because I have seen what they were able to do with the kids in the past and thought it would be awesome to be a part of it," he said. "The funnest part of the weekend was just getting to know Willie and his family and to see him having a good time. I had a blast hanging out with them." Cadet Wise has routinely been helping host Make-A-Wish youngsters during her Academy career.
"It is a way for us to reach out to the community and help give kids a day they'll never forget," she said.
Mr. Presley was deeply impressed with the cadets' hospitality. "I can't find words to describe it. It brought a lot of joy to my family," he said. "The cadets are pretty special, and it was a lot more than I expected."
Female cadets in CS-02 found Willie a special guy, too, and gave out kisses to him before the group photograph of the family and squadron. "We told you we'd hook you up," a male voice from the squadron shouted out.