A dream to fly, a lasting friendship
By Capt. Gabe Johnson, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 04, 2008
TUCSON, Ariz. -- 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 today he continues to inspire unit members.
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.
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,'" said Colonel Reinhold.
He visits Dominic about once every three months, either in Flagstaff, Phoenix or Tucson. In between visits, Dominic gets emails from Rhino and counts the days until the next reunion.
Their last visit was a day spent at the Phoenix Zoo, Oct. 30. His 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 you [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," said Ms. Magne. "Things are pretty steady health wise. 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," said Ms. Magne.
"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."
Last March, Dominic made a second visit to the 162nd. Colonel 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. Rhino even showed up for a show-and-tell at Dominic's school.
"It amazes me that you have continued to do this," Ms. 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, Colonel Reinhold 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. 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, not just a one-day commitment, but a long one... maybe a lifetime," said the colonel.
Inspired by Dominic and his friendship with Colonel Reinhold, the men and women of the 162nd Fighter Wing are organizing a toy drive for children at Phoenix Children's Hospital.
Unwrapped gifts for children ages 2 through 15 can be dropped off in, or mailed to, the 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs office (Building 1) at 1650 E. Perimeter Way, Tucson, Ariz. 85706. The most appropriate gifts range between $10 and $20 in price, and are ones that can be enjoyed from a hospital bed.
Volunteers are also needed to bring the gifts to the hospital Dec. 11. Anyone interested may contact the wing's public affairs office at (520) 295-6192.
When asked what he wanted to say to all of the Guardsmen in Tucson Dominic simply said, "Thank you."