AK, UNITED STATES
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — After a quick meal at the Warrior’s Inn Dining Facility the schedule was going to include riding in a Black Hawk helicopter, firing simulated weapons at a high-tech shooting range, simulated convoy training with cutting-edge motion- and sensory-simulation technology, airborne sustainment training, jumping from a 34-foot tower and a private meeting with the commanding general of U.S. Army Alaska.
While this could plausibly pass for the daily routine of USARAK Arctic Warrior, it was the chain of events planned for Nathan Rothe, a 9-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy from Dallas, Texas, visiting Alaska to experience a full-blown arctic winter with his family with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In addition to his mother and father, Nathan was also joined by Collin Prokasy, his hometown friend, who was allowed to accompany him under the rules of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, because Nathan is an only child.
While Nathan’s wish wasn’t to become a soldier for a day, his family’s military past led them to an invitation to spend the day visiting Army units during their stay in Alaska, according to Mary Rall, U.S. Army Alaska Community Relations Chief.
“The soldiers participating in the event seemed to have gotten as much out of the experience as the Rothe family,” Rall said. “I genuinely think it was something everybody involved felt privileged to be a part of.”
After some minor schedule shuffling, the Rothe family and Make-A-Wish were able to dedicate some time between attending the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and visiting the Anchorage Zoo to visit the installation.
Units from across the Army side of JBER opened their doors to welcome the Rothe family to show them what it’s like to be a soldier.
Their visit started with lunch at an on-post dining facility to eat what soldiers eat, where soldiers eat.
“This is a lot cooler than our school cafeteria,” Collin said, as he watched the soldiers eating at their tables.
“Yeah, we don’t have moose heads on our walls,” Nathan agreed.
After a healthy lunch they were escorted to Bryant Army Air Field where Capt. Brett Haker, maintenance officer for the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment of the Alaska Army National Guard, brought the family into a hangar filled with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and whispered something into the boy’s ears.
The two boys then shouted “Fall in!” and the National Guard soldiers all responded by getting into a crisp formation before the smiling boys.
Haker presented the boys with honorary certificates and wings and donated, kid-sized Army aviator hats and jackets complete with unit patches and name tapes.
The special guests also had a chance to sit in the cockpit of a Black Hawk and try out the aircraft’s communications system.
At the end of the hangar tour, the family met with The Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard, Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus.
At the Battle Command Training Center the boys tried their hands at the engagement skills trainer, a complex system of integrated lasers and projected images on a screen attached to air compressors and inert M4 and M16 rifles.
After some instruction on the system, the boys had a chance to shoot at digital turkeys scurrying across a projected background.
“Oh, they love this,” Jessica Rothe, Nathan’s mother, said. “They’re both carrying on like it’s a big video game.”
After a few rounds of the digital turkey shoot the visitors experienced another simulated training event with the reconfigurable vehicle tactical trainer, a large stationary simulation of a military style Humvee surrounded by digital projected landscape which reacts to the crew’s actions.
The system replicates the feel of actually driving a military convoy through hostile terrain.
The family laughed and watched as the boys excitedly took turns driving and operating the simulated 240-Bravo machine gun mounted on the turret of the vehicle and maneuvered the harsh terrain and navigated narrow alleys looking for their digital enemy.
“This is so cool!” Collin said, as he drove the vehicle.
“This thing is really loud!” Nathan said, as he pulled the trigger of the machine gun and it recoiled with compressed air just like a real weapon.
At the Airborne Sustainment Training Area paratroopers from the 4th Brigade (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division Rear Detachment showed the family what goes into airborne operations.
Maj. Daniel Enslen, rear detachment commander, greeted them and introduced them to his demonstrators who showed them the workings of a T-10 Delta parachute and reserve.
They rigged up a demonstrator and yanked the parachute out to show how it functioned before taking a knee and showing how the reserve parachute can rapidly deploy it in the event of an emergency.
The entire family had the opportunity, if they so chose, to jump from the 34-foot tower, a military paratrooper training apparatus used to refine the skill of a novice jumper and help new paratroopers overcome their initial fear of heights.
Collin and Ted Rothe, Nathan’s father, opted to rig into the harnesses and exit the tower as their friends and family cheered them on.
“I’m not going to do that, that’s crazy!” Nathan said.
There was one last event awaiting the Rothe family as they departed the ASTA.
The guests dropped by USARAK headquarters to meet USARAK Commanding General Maj. Gen. Raymond Palumbo, who warmly greeted them and had some special gifts for the boys before they left.
Palumbo presented the boys with a gift bag filled with items emblazoned with the USARAK logo and helped them don black and gold football-style jerseys wearing the number 49 for the 49th state of Alaska as he talked sports with them and showed them some of the donated hockey jerseys that had been given to USARAK over the years.
As the family filed out of the commander’s office to continue their Alaska visit, Nathan seemed to have one question lingering on his mind.
“You guys have football up here?” Nathan asked.
“We have all kinds of sports up here,” Palumbo answered, getting chuckles from Nathan’s mother and father.
This work, Boy becomes Alaska soldier for a day, by SSG Matthew Winstead, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.