by Capt. Ashley Conner
477th Fighter Group Public Affairs
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF RICHARDSON, Alaska - MacAidan "Mac" Gallegos was only 5 when his father, Army Sgt. Justin Gallegos, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Not a day goes by that he doesn't think about him. On days like Jan. 24, his father's 31st birthday, he has found a special way to celebrate his birthday and honor his memory.
"I wanted to write my dad a letter and get it as close to heaven as possible," said Mac.
Mac and his mother Amanda Marr discussed ways to get the letter to heaven but ultimately decided that having someone fly it would be the best.
"I posted on Facebook that we were looking for a pilot who could fly the letter for Mac," said Marr. "Kyle Moxley from HAVE Alaska contacted me and said he would coordinate and try to make it happen."
Helping American Veterans Experience Alaska, or HAVE Alaska, was stood up in 2010 by Moxley and his wife Carla to provide opportunities for veterans to experience hunting and fishing excursions in Alaska.
A few emails and phone calls later Mac, his mother and his step-father, Army Master Sgt. Jeremy Marr, were meeting Senior Airman Jennifer Dunham, 90th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief who gave them a tour of the Raptor.
Before stepping to fly Lt. Col. Brian Baldwin, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, met Mac at his F-22 where the little boy handed over the letter to his father written on red construction paper, his dad's favorite color.
"It is an honor to fly with Mac's letter," said Baldwin. "His father gave the greatest sacrifice to our country and I am humbled to be able to do something for him and his family."
Mac and his family have baked cupcakes and said they look forward to taking time out to remember Gallegos on his birthday.
"Over the years we would have a party for Justin on his birthday," said Marr, who grew up in Palmer, Alaska but now resides in Anchorage. "As Mac has gotten older we have turned it into a day where we do "Acts of Service" for others. It is important for us to remember Justin and celebrate his life."