Visiting Hawaii is a dream come true for a lot of people, but for one Minnesota teen who's battled a rare disease most of his life, the dream included checking out the island chain's rich military history — and one storied Army unit made that come true.
Alexander Hipp, 19, had a hereditary immune system issue called chronic granulomatous disease, which made him unable to fight off bacterial or fungal infections like healthy people. His two younger brothers, 14-year-old Aidan and 8-year-old Ian, have the same rare disease. Alex said doctors told him that most CGD patients don't live past 20.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation found out about Alex's condition about a year and a half ago and reached out to him. His wish? To visit the Pearl Harbor World War II memorials and all the military history on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It turns out Alex, who has a family history of service, is a pretty big history buff.
So the Army's 25th Infantry Division, the Tropic Lightning, stepped up to the plate in late July, hosting Alex and his family at Schofield Barracks. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the division's Hui Ha'a team — soldiers who do a traditional Hawaiian warrior dance — before meeting with the division’s leadership, who made Alex an honorary soldier for the day. The family then toured the division's museum and tried out some rifle and helicopter simulators.
"Every second it got better and better," Alex said. "The simulators were very impressive and amazing."
"This has been the most extraordinary experience for my entire family," said Stephen Hipp, Alex's dad. "Watching him today react to these things — he's really a timid, shy personality, and he was just elated … It made me feel a great sense of joy."
The best part of the tour for Alex? Seeing Oahu through the clouds on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter — something the crew was excited about, too.
"As soon as I found out I was going to be flying a Make-A-Wish flight, I was super excited," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Farrell. "Having that opportunity to take someone on a fun helicopter ride and share a little bit about what you do on a daily basis, it is the most fun that I get to have in my job."
"Getting to actually ride in a Black Hawk was the best experience of my life," Alex said.
Well – maybe second-best experience. Shortly after Make-A-Wish reached out to Alex, he underwent a bone marrow transplant, which is a relatively new procedure for CGD patients.
"My little brother was the first one to ever get it done on him in the Twin Cities area. I came later, and it was a success. I'm completely cured!" he said.
Aside from visiting Schofield Barracks, Alex and his family toured several historic sites and military installations on the island.
"I don't have the words to describe how thankful I am. Everything was amazing," Alex said. "I'll never forget it."
Alex's sister, 18-year-old Rita, recently enlisted in the Marines. Alex himself is awaiting word from his doctors to see if he can join up, too.
Video by Army Staff Sgt. Alan Brutus & Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James Veal