U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Kai Rackley became the Air Force Academy's newest Cadet for a Day March 4-5 in cooperation with Cadet Squadron 12 and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Kai, who is 10½, dreams of becoming a pilot or a chef someday. His favorite aircraft is the Airbus 380, and he loves Garfield the cat and drawing airplanes. His sister Lily, 12, said he is also funny and likes to make jokes.
"He's a good brother to have," she said.
High winds grounded the Aero Club flight normally scheduled for Cadets for a Day, but that didn't stop the fun for Kai, his father, Mark, and Lily -- and, of course, the cadets.
"I liked all of (the cadets)," Kai said. "They are very friendly, and I like making new friends. It's nice."
The weekend opened with a Thursday dinner off base with cadets and presentation of his official, though pint-sized, flight suit and jacket. The first stop on Friday was the air traffic control tower, where Kai learned the ins and outs of managing air traffic, followed by a tour of the glider hangar, where he laid a claim to fame with his name painted on one of the sail planes.
Afterward, firefighters from Fire Station 3 rolled out the red carpet -- and their red truck -- so Kai could check out the sirens and nozzles. Then it was off to the 98th Flying Training Squadron for an introduction to parachuting, Academy-style, including strapping into training gear in the squadron's ground training facility. Before leading the cadet formation into Mitchell Hall for lunch and enjoying a flyover by a C-21 from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Kai and his family visited with squadmates and made the traditional Cadet for a Day handprints on the squadron wall.
After lunch and photos on Spirit Hill, the family toured the Cadet Chapel and enjoyed a chemistry magic show from chemistry professor Dr. Ron Furstenau, who entertained his audience with feats involving rocket fuel and blowing up a balloon using dry ice.
"It kind of looks like water, but it's not," the professor said good-naturedly.
The flight simulators in Fairchild Hall were a big hit for the whole family, Kai especially.
"It was really fun controlling an airplane," he said.
The day ended with a squadron party at the bowling alley.
Saturday brought a tennis match, a Falcons baseball game where Kai threw out the first pitch, a flyover of F-16 Fighting Falcons from Buckley Air Force Base, a visit with the Academy's feathered falcon mascots at the mews and a high-speed cockpit taxi on the Academy's runways.
"We're a very family-oriented squadron," said Cadet 2nd Class Kathleen Muckenhirn from CS 12. "We love the program and a chance to share the Academy with a miniature cadet."
She said the Cadet for a Day is a favorite, and coveted, opportunity for cadets, and it took the squadron four years of trying to be included.
Cadet 3rd Class Evan Twohig from CS 25 said he also enjoys being involved with the program
"I thought it would be a great experience and a great chance to meet new people," he said. He and Cadet 3rd Class Kimberly Shealy from CS 25 both helped out.
Maj. Jon Veazey is an admissions liaison officer stationed at North American Aerospace Defense Headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base. He is the current officer in charge for Cadet for a Day and has been involved with the program since 2001.
"It's amazing every time just to see the amazement of the kids and families," he said. "Every child is different."
Peggy Nightingale, a wish granter with the foundation, said her motivation to help is simple.
"It's the smiles you see from just having a few minutes of not having the suffering they go through."
Kai, like his sister adopted from China, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007 and underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He has been cancer-free for a year and is back in school. His father, Mark, said the weekend was a lot more than what he expected.
"I know Kai had a fabulous time," he said. "All the activities were appropriate, well-scheduled and ran like clockwork."
Mr. Rackley said the cadets were fabulous as well: polite and very sensitive to Kai and his sister Lily.
"They made us all feel very welcome," he said.
As for Kai, he seemed to take it all in, smiling the entire time. He said he especially enjoyed the fire station visit and seeing all the tools firefighters use and the chemistry magic show, which he called "pretty cool." He wants to stay in touch with the cadets and would enjoy a repeat visit to the Academy.
"I would love that," he said. "I had a great time."
A great time made even better -- no homework over the weekend.