Lackland Air Force Base, Texas —
A 13-year-old cancer survivor's wish to see his brother graduate from basic military training was granted last Friday, and as a bonus of serendipitous timing, he was presented coins by the generals who head the Air Force and Air Education and Training Command.
"It was pretty cool," Louis Loera of Vallejo, Calif., said of watching the Airmen pass in review, including his newly graduated brother, Airman 1st Class Robert Manuel Barros, 19, who rapped out a marching beat as a member of Honor Flight 471, Lackland Drum and Bugle Corps, 323rd Training Squadron.
"Pretty happy for him," Louis said of his graduating brother.
As for Louis, it was a "perfect" day, topped off by being coined by AETC Commander Gen. Bill Looney and Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley, who asked retiring 37th Training Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Isakson to join him in reviewing the passing graduates. "I like getting medals from generals," Louis said, smiling brightly.
Acting on a request from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Lackland protocol provided a seat for Louis on the front row of the main reviewing grandstand. Sitting next to him was his guardian and oldest sister, Sandra Fletcher, 28. Her husband, George, sat in the back of the stands, along with 14- and 17-year-old sisters of the graduating Airman who live with the Fletchers, and a 26-year-old brother. All of the brothers and sisters have the same mother.
Louis, seated in a wheelchair with his lower left leg and foot bandaged, said his foot is "doing much better" since a snynovial sarcoma was removed in surgery. "It's going away," he said of the cancer. The bandages will be removed in "probably like a month or so," he said. "Then I can walk again."
Arriving a day earlier, Louis, his guardians and sisters were provided special seating for a ceremony outside the 323rd TRS as coins were presented to Airman Barros and other Airmen for being members of an honor flight. After introducing Louis to the Airmen before that ceremony, Lt. Col. Thomas "T2" Timmerman, 323rd commander, made Louis an honorary member of the Viper Association, named after the 323rd mascot, and gave him a Viper T-shirt and coin.
"That's good, Bro," Airman Barros said later when Louis showed him the Viper coin. "I'm going to join the Viper Association as well."
Airman Barros, promoted to airman first class following his graduation, now is in six weeks of health services management training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. He plans to cross-train as a pharmacy apprentice.
"I'm real glad you came," he told Louis. "He would have gone anywhere in the world," one of the sisters added.
Louis also had a second wish, and that was granted Saturday when he visited Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
To those who granted his wishes, Louis said: "Thank you for everything."
Mrs. Fletcher said the cancer first appeared in February as a cyst on Louis' left ankle. "It's very rare for someone his age," she said.
Fortunately, she said, it was caught at an early stage, and doctors believed they removed it all. However, they said he needs to be watched closely over the next 20 years for a possible recurrence.