News: McGinnis-Wickam Hall goes blue in support of Autism Awareness Month
Story by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler
FORT BENNING, Ga. - On a typical Fort Benning night, the dull glow of fluorescent lights can be seen illuminating McGinnis-Wickam Hall, the Maneuver Center of Excellence headquarters. As the sun set on April 2, however, incandescent rays of blue lined the main walkways and entrance to the building— 92 blue lights in all.
Like many buildings and houses around the country, the Maneuver Center of Excellence was shining its own lights on autism awareness.
“This is the first time something like this has been done here,” said Capt. Seth Fort, the commander of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
“When people drive by, the hope is that, if they don’t already know, they will ask ‘why blue?’ If they Google it, they will easily find the answer.”
The answer is simple, but the problem is a complex one.
Fort, of Woodbridge, Va., spearheaded the efforts to turn McGinnis-Wickam Hall blue. He purchased the blue gel film filters placed over each light. With the help of his wife, Meghann, he measured and cut each sheet to the exact dimensions of the flood lights, spotlights and street lamps outside of the building. Soldiers from his battery, many with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder; his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Kevin Capra, and his family; and volunteers in the local autism community helped tape each sheet over the lights.
He enlisted the help of Lt. Col. Andy Hilmes to plan the event. Hilmes, a former commander of the 3rd ABCT’s 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, is now the MCoE operations officer. Hilmes’ wife, Nicole, is the owner and director of The Autism Learning Center in Columbus.
Aside from a desire to want to shed light on autism awareness, Fort and Hilmes have something else in common. They both have children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
While her parents were gathered around the blue lights, talking to those who had gathered to see the lighting of McGinnis-Wickam Hall, Amelia Fort was busy enjoying another sight at the building. Making her way around the shallow ponds, the 5-year-old dipped her hand in and out, swiping it back and forth. Before the water had enough time to settle, she was on to another spot to do it again. She was content by herself, feeling the rush of the cool water through her fingers.
In 2012, Amelia was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After years of struggling with speech and failing to make eye contact with others around her, the Fort’s knew something wasn’t right.
“People would tell us ‘Oh, she just has hearing problems’ and for a while [doctors] were considering placing tubes in her ears,” Fort said. “But, by the time we got her into speech therapy, it was obvious. We knew there was more to it.”
For Amelia, early diagnosis was key in her treatment.
“The diagnosis was a sense of relief. We had highly suspected it, but didn’t know much about it,” said Fort. After the diagnosis, he said he and Meghann tried to learn everything they could about the disorder.
Soon, Amelia began Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, which Fort said has been invaluable. ABA therapy is used to modify various forms of behavior, both excesses and deficits, which includes language, socialization, and daily living skills. It's based on the overall principle that manipulating stimuli surrounding a behavior can cause that behavior to be modified.
“You can’t be healed, but you can make progress,” said Fort.
About 1 in 68 children are identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to estimates from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
“Early intervention is key because the therapy available will help children [with an Autism Spectrum Disorder] to reach their full potential,” said Kimberly Kapacziewski. A fitness instructor and local Stroller Strong Mom, she is the brains behind Light Up Columbus, a 1k, 5k and 10k race for autism awareness happening the night of April 18.
Like the Fort’s, Autism Spectrum Disorder hits close to home for Kimberly and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski, who is currently serving overseas with the 75th Ranger Regiment. The Kapacziewski’s are no strangers to challenges. After suffering a right leg amputation, Kapacziewski was the first Ranger to return to duty and serve in direct combat operations with a prosthetic limb.
But they would face a different challenge.
Cody Kapacziewski wasn’t a talkative baby. In fact, at 18 months, he had severely limited verbal skills.
“Sometimes he would babble, but that was it,” said Kimberly , of Columbus.
He never wanted to be held and he wouldn’t respond to his name. After being given a milestone checklist by Cody’s doctor, Kimberly said she realized that he was failing to meet the markers for children his age.
She always had a reason why, though.
“I would say it was because his brother speaks for him or maybe he had a hearing problem,” Kimberly explained. “I always had all these different reasons why Cody wasn’t reaching his milestones.”
In May 2012, when her husband had his annual prosthetic appointment in San Antonio, Texas, Kimberly packed up the Cody and his brother, Wyatt, and joined him. It was there, within 15 minutes of being seen by a specialist, Kimberly was told Cody was autistic.
“It’s one of those things that were out of sight, out of mind, until my son was diagnosed,” said Kimberly."Now he does 12 hours of ABA therapy a week, and he has really come full circle."
Looking back at the stage of denial she went through, Kimberly stresses the importance of finding answers if something doesn’t seem right.
“If I could tell parents one thing, it would be that if they have any doubt or their children have developmental delays, it’s in their best interest, and their child’s best interest, to get it checked out. I can’t say enough how important early intervention is,” she said.
Kimberly is hopeful that Cody, now 3, will be able to catch up his peers because of the early diagnosis and therapy he is receiving.
“I hate to say that he will have a ‘normal’ life because what is that really?”
For more information on how you can participate in or show support for the Light Up Columbus for Autism race, visit