LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Lackland's flightline was filled with teenagers dressed in Air Force ROTC uniforms and T-shirts, nearly 3,000 strong who gathered for the Lackland AirFest 2010 honored guests show Nov. 5.
The teens moved about in small groups as they wandered between exhibit and food booths and the flightline. They eventually made their way through a maze of canopies to a gathering point against a temporary fence that prevented their spillage onto a grassy area next to the runway.
Mixed in with the teens from schools in the San Antonio area and around South Texas were Air Force active duty, retirees and special invitees from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Morgan's Wonderland.
Proudly sporting a green Air Force flight jacket, George Alvarado Jr. alternated his view of the AirFest practice show from sitting in a chair underneath a canopy to standing out in the bright sunshine, a hand occasionally shielding his eyes to fight off the blinding skyward glare.
George, 15, is not a typical teenager. Four months removed from a heart transplant, he won't return to John P. Stevens High School until after Christmas. Ventures away from home are few, and his family eagerly accepted the opportunity for George to be an honored guest through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"He doesn't get out much, so to come to something like this is a special treat," said Amelia Alvarado, George's mother, as she kept a watchful eye on her son. "He kept asking me (the week before) 'Are we going? Are we going?' He was so excited.
"I think it's a big honor for him. Make-A-Wish helps me give him something I can't. I wanted to give him something he could remember for a very long time."
Even having been a "pilot for a day" at Lackland in September courtesy of Lt. Col. Driller Fiegel, if this teen has the chance one day to join the military his mind is already made up. He wants to be a Navy SEAL.
"It's not a dream - it's an actuality," George replied when told his mother said her son dreamed of being a SEAL. "I'm feeling a lot better and I know I can make it as a SEAL (if I have the chance)."
While George is determined to achieve his goal, he's gathering memories that will last a lifetime. Along with the front-row view, there was personal time with an Air Force Thunderbird pilot after the show. As their special guests proudly sported Thunderbirds memorabilia and listened intently, inspiration was quickly shifting sides.
"It's truly an honor every Friday at the practice shows to perform (for the special guests)," said Maj. Rick Goodman, Thunderbird No. 5, lead solo. "Once we land, we spend 30 to 45 minutes talking to them.
"That's a real honor and humbling. I think maybe that's why we like it so much. To sit down and interact (with them), it inspires us with their strength and dignity. Hopefully we inspire them a little bit with the flying and the show."
After leaving the show, George spent the rest of the day talking about his experience. His mother said it will be a hot topic for a long time.
"That really put a smile on his face for the rest of the day," Ms. Alvarado said about her youngest son's time with Major Goodman. "We talked about it all afternoon. It's an experience we'll never forget."