Face of Defense: Airman Volunteers as Boy's "Instructor Pilot"
By Air Force Capt. Gabe Johnson
Special to American Forces Press Service
TUCSON, Ariz., Nov. 7, 2008 A little boy from Flagstaff, Ariz., touched the lives of Guardsmen at the 162nd Fighter Wing here last year when he visited the wing to be a fighter pilot for a day, and he continues to inspire unit members today.
Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Reinhold, then a major, puts the 162nd Fighter Wing patch on 6-year-old Dominic Magne’s flight suit during the boy’s visit to the Arizona Air National Guard unit April 17, 2007. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Gabe Johnson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the age of 6, Dominic Magne underwent aggressive chemotherapy in his battle with acute lymphomatic leukemia. In a weakened state, he visited the wing April 17, 2007, to fulfill his dream to become an F-16 pilot.
Air Force Lt. Col. Scott “Rhino” Reinhold volunteered to be Dominic’s “instructor pilot” – showing him the airplanes, simulators and fighter pilot gear. For the first-grader, the visit concluded with an honorary commission as a second lieutenant in the Arizona Air National Guard and status as a pilot; but that was just the beginning.
“When we heard about Dominic, we wanted to make a lasting bond – not just create an overwhelming experience and then say, ‘Good luck with the rest of your life,’” Reinhold said.
He visits Dominic about once every three months in Flagstaff, Phoenix or Tucson. Between visits, Dominic gets e-mails from Reinhold and counts the days until the next reunion.
Their last visit was Oct. 30 for a day spent at the Phoenix Zoo. Dominic’s health had noticeably improved since he first came to the wing 18 months ago, and his concentrated treatments had shifted to once-a-week infusions at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“When [the Guardsmen] first met him, he was in relapse and he had just started an intensive treatment program,” said Susan Magne, Dominic’s grandmother. “You saw him at his worst. It gets better as it goes along, and it becomes maintenance, like he’s in now. He’s doing good. Things are pretty steady healthwise. But until he’s done with treatment in April, we won’t know if he’s in remission.”
She added that Dominic, now a second-grader, is full of energy. He’s active in school and church, and he recently joined the Cub Scouts.
“It was something he wanted to try,” she said. “Dominic even wants to play soccer someday. He keeps me busy.”
She credits Dominic’s experience at the 162nd as an important event in his recovery.
“He remembers it, because his [flight] suit is hanging on the wall with all of the pictures, and his helmet is on his bookcase. He remembers the time he spent with Scott the most, because that was one-on-one time,” the boy’s grandmother said. “He enjoys Scott. He doesn’t have a lot of male attachment, and having Scott around has been really important, because he relies on him for a good influence.”
In March, Dominic made a second visit to the 162nd. Reinhold took him to the F-16 simulator again, they watched take offs and landings from the ramp, and Dominic stayed the night with Reinhold’s family. Reinhold even showed up for a show-and-tell at Dominic’s school.
“It amazes me that you have continued to do this,” Susan Magne told Reinhold during their trip to the zoo. “Most guys would say, ‘Well I’ve got a family, I’m busy.’”
As a father of three, Reinhold said, he knows it’s relationships that make all the difference. He has a 14-year-old daughter, an 11-year-old son and a 6-year-old son.
“I don’t want my kids to think that this is a special effort that I’m making here with Dominic,” he said. “I want them to see this as a normal part of life. If we could all find one person in need, emotional or physical, and make a commitment to befriend them, how much better would everything be?
“They see that when I go see my buddy Dominic he’s a friend that I’ve made a commitment to,” he continued. “Not just a one-day commitment, but a long one -- maybe a lifetime.”
Inspired by Dominic and his friendship with Reinhold, the men and women of the 162nd Fighter Wing are organizing a toy drive for children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
(Air Force Capt. Gabe Johnson serves in the 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office.)