News>Commentary - A base tour for a special little boy touches lives
Kevin Sallaway, a nurse at the 325th Medical Group Family Practice clinic, holds up his grandson, Jaxon, as they explore a F-15 Eagle during Jaxson's tour of Tyndall. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing)
Jaxson takes an interest in the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit's robot, F-6A. He also toured the MRAP All-Terrain vehicle and the armored humvee. Jaxson was born with Russell-Silver syndrome, a genetic growth disorder characterized by slow growth before and after birth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing)
Craig Devoy, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, introduces Jaxson to Sparky the fire dog during his visit to the fire department while on his tour of Tyndall. Jaxson was born with Russell-Silver syndrome, a genetic growth disorder characterized by slow growth before and after birth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Cokeing)
Commentary by 2nd Lt. Andrea Valencia
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
6/18/2012 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Recently, I had the privilege of taking part in a base tour that touched me immensely. This was not just any run-of-the-mill tour, with the usual stops and the usual questions. This tour was for a special little boy named Jaxson.
After months of planning and coordination, Kevin Sallaway, Jaxson's grandfather and a nurse at the 325th Medical Group Family Practice clinic, brought his grandson and his daughter, Cassi, on a tour of the base June 13.
Jaxson was born with Russell-Silver syndrome, a genetic growth disorder characterized by slow growth before and after birth. Babies with this condition have a low birth weight and often fail to grow and gain weight at the expected rate.
Cassi explained that she realized Jaxson had the disorder when he was just nine months old.
"He's going to be three years old in August, but he's the about the size of a one year old," she said. "He only weighs 20 pounds."
When asked if the group had visited any of the theme parks in Florida while on their visit, Cassi replied, "Jaxson is too small to even go on the children's rides."
Despite his small size Jaxson would have no issue experiencing all that was planned for him to see on his base tour.
The morning began with a stop at the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. The family was met by Tech. Sgt. Dave Spigel, an EOD craftsman at Tyndall. Jaxson got to tour the MRAP All-Terrain vehicle, the armored humvee and the robot F-6A.
Taking little notice of the expensive equipment around him, Jaxson was entranced by the spring like detonator charges. The EOD Airmen showed him various fake bombs, and he carried one around for a while, until finally deciding to explore the robot. He climbed aboard the robot and settled in for a ride, while we laughed at his antics.
"That's the first time anyone has tried to ride the robot," Tech. Sgt. Phillip Dyer, 325th CES EOD, remarked.
Jaxson almost didn't notice EOD apprentice Airman 1st Class David Smith in the 80-pound EOD suit until the end of his tour of EOD. But when he spotted Smith, Jaxson ran with outstretched arms and a rousing "hi."
On the next stop of Jaxson's tour of Tyndall, he got to see the F-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle displayed on the flight line. Tech. Sgt. Chris Schneider, 325th Maintenance Operations Squadron Development and Instructions section chief, took the family out to the planes. They posed for a picture in front of the F-22, but the little boy was more interested in splashing in the puddle he found, than in the multi-million dollar plane. The F-15 held more of his attention as he got to sit in the cockpit and play with the buttons inside. Once back on the ground, Jaxson's attention returned to splashing in the small puddles he could find.
"He's always been a water baby," said Kevin, while Cassi picked him up to get back in the van for his next stop at the fire department.
Craig Devoy, 325th CES firefighter, met Jaxson and lifted him into the fire truck. The first blare of the horn had him all smiles.
The water truck was an even bigger hit. With the help of Devoy, Jaxson got to shoot the water cannon, watching the spray arc high in the air and back down again.
Jaxson's biggest thrill of all was playing with Sparky the fire dog. The pair kept turning the hose on and off with Jaxson's command of "ready, set, go." The play left Jaxson completely drenched and giggling. A group gathered to watch the joy of the small boy running back and forth playing in the water, laughing the entire time. Mom and Grandpa stood nearby snapping photo after photo. Even I took some pictures, his joy so infectious that you had to smile too. It was the most Cassi had heard Jaxson laugh ever.
Next, it was time for lunch; Grandpa had to drag Jaxson away from the water and his new friend.
His mom explained that part of his condition prevents him from eating regular food. Instead he is fed through a tube every three hours. Jaxson didn't notice the tube; he proudly wears the bag in his panda backpack.
Jaxson didn't say much throughout the day. His speech is limited but he knows how to make a point.
"He gets frustrated at times," said Kevin. "He can't get out what he's trying to say. But he does know some sign language that helps him communicate with Cassi."
After lunch, the family visited the Natural Resources Museum. Jaxson enjoyed looking at the stuffed animals, even trying to ride the stuffed bobcat that wildlife biologist Mrs. Wendy Jones brought out to show him.
His energy was waning at this point. Once back in the van, he nodded off on the way to the last stop of the tour.
He didn't so much as blink an eye when the group arrived at the 325th Security Forces Squadron K-9 unit. They barely cracked open even at the noise of dogs barking in their kennels. Jaxson missed out on the demonstration that military working dog Zippo and his handler Staff Sgt. Jacop Parker put on with the help of Senior Airman Brandon Rimmer. His mom and grandpa enjoyed the show and recorded it for him to watch later.
Once the trio was back at their car, sleeping Jaxson was loaded back into his car seat, and Cassi and Kevin said their good byes and thank you's. It was a day they would never forget.
It was certainly a day that will stay with me forever. It was amazing to see the joy that each of the tour stops had given to the little boy. The Airmen at each of the stops put so much effort into making the day special for Jaxson. Often, it is days like this one that makes it all worthwhile.
6/19/2012 6:55:24 PM ET This was definitely one of the most memorable days Jaxson has ever had I would like to thank everyone for setting up this tour and everything they did for Jaxson and all the gifts they showered him with. He likes to run around in all the different hats Again thank you so much it was such a joy to see Jaxson's smiles and all the smiles he brought to everyones faces