Defense

January 28, 2013

F-22 pilot flies boy’s letter ‘closer to heaven’

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Capt. Ashley Conner
JB Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska

MacAidan Mac Gallegos, conducts a walk around inspection of an F-22 with Lt. Col. Brian Baldwin, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron prior to his flight. Mac wrote a letter to his father Army Sgt. Justin Gallegos who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 and wanted it to be flown as close to heaven as possible on his father’s birthday. Gallegos died when enemy forces equipped with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades swarmed a pair of remote outposts in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province. He was part of a group serving there with the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colo. Macís mother originally from Palmer, Alaska, moved back to Anchorage in 2010.

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.

SrA. Jennifer Dunham, 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, assists MacAidan ìMacî Gallegos with his headset so he can listen to the F-22 start up procedures. Mac wrote a letter to his father Army Sgt. Justin Gallegos who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 and wanted it to be flown as close to heaven as possible on his father’s birthday.

A few emails and phone calls later Mac, his mother and his step-father, Army MSgt. Jeremy Marr, were meeting SrA. 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.”

Lt. Col. Brian Baldwin, a Reserve F-22 pilot assigned to the 302nd Fighter Squadron, takes off from Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 24, 2013. Tucked into his flight suit is a letter written by 9-year old MacAidan ìMacî Gallegos to his father Sgt. Justin Gallegos, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Mac wanted the letter flown as close to heaven as possible on his fatherís birthday.

MacAidan “Mac” Gallegos’ letter to his father: Dear dad, I have some questions. What is it like in a tank? What is it like to be a scout? How old are you now? How old were you when you died? What is your favorite food? What is your favorite animal? What is your favorite hobby? What is your favorite activity? What is it like in heaven? Have you seen what I have accomplished? From your son.




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