by Staff Sgt. Danielle Johnston
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Maj. Todd Riddle (left), A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, and Justin Kelley (right), A-10 crew chief, talk to Michael Gracey, fourth-grade student, about the A-10 during a tour of the base July 26, 2012. Gracey, the son of an active-duty member here, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and Asperger's syndrome in 2007. The 442nd Fighter Wing is an Air Force Reserve unit here. (U.S. Air Force photo) Hi-res
Note: Pictured is A-10C 79-0113 from the 303rd Fighter Squadron. Crew inscriptions: PILOT: LT COL PAUL AMEY, CREW CHIEF: TSGT RANDY JULIEN, ASST. CREW CHIEF: SRA SHEA WAITS.
7/27/2012 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Michael Gracey, a fourth-grade student at Sterling elementary, Warrensburg, Mo., toured the 303rd Fighter Squadron here, July 26.
Gracey, who has attention deficit hyperactive disorder and Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, got up close with an A-10 Thunderbolt II and learned what it takes to be a pilot. He spent the afternoon operating his own Warthog from the virtual cockpit of the simulator and visited the aircrew flight equipment shop where he tried on flight equipment.
Michael's mother, Senior Master Sgt. Mona Wendzillo, 509th Airman and Family Readiness Center noncommissioned officer in charge, said the family found out about his condition in 2007. She said it was a difficult transition - one that took nearly a year of research - to learn about the disorder. Her research eventually helped her understand and communicate better with her then-5-year-old son.
While working in the 509th A&FR office, Wendzillo developed a friendship with Master Sgt. Vickie Chambers, former 442nd A&FR noncommissioned officer in charge. It is through Chambers that Wendzillo was able to coordinate the special day for her son.
"I was blown away today," she said. "I thought we were just going to come in the hangar and stand back to look at a plane, and we were thrilled about that."
Instead, Chambers worked with Maj. Todd Riddle, 303rd FS A-10 pilot, to set up an afternoon full of events. Michael tried on night-vision goggles, a pilot helmet, and other gear used during training and deployment missions. He practiced landing a parachute on a windy day in the hanging-harness simulator, and he even used his own house as target practice in the 360-degree A-10 virtual simulator.
"This has really been a phenomenal day in the midst of what has so far been a really bad summer," Wendzillo said. "Change can be hard on Michael, and we've had a lot of change lately that we've been working on adapting to, so it was great to come out here and spend an afternoon having fun."
Riddle showed Michael and his mom around the squadron and the A-10 and ended the tour by presenting Michael a squadron patch worn by the A-10 pilots here.
"It was such a good feeling to see Michael so happy today," Riddle said. "But this wasn't just about him. Being a single mom is probably the hardest job I can imagine - and getting to see her excited because Michael was excited, was what the Air Force is all about - taking care of our wingmen."
Wendzillo participates in a special-needs support group available to anyone with base access. For more information on the special-needs support group here, you may contact Diane Munley, the school liason officer and exceptional family member program support specialist here, at 660-687-7132. You can also find the online support group by searching "Whiteman exceptional family members program" on Facebook.
Note: What a beautiful boy! My best wishes, Michael!
Source (including 2 photos)