Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Student has big heart for military

Leader staff writer

Magness Creek Elementary fourth-grader Zach Wilmoth of Cabot has a big heart for the military. He hopes to become a naval officer one day.

Last month, the 10 year old visited several wounded servicemen recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., while he was in Washington to attend the Army Navy football game.

Wilmoth’s parents, Emily, who works in human resources for Snap-On Tools in Conway, and Tech Sgt. Scott Wilmoth, with the 19th Airlift Wing’s maintenance group at Little Rock Air Force Base, surprised their son with a weekend trip to Washington to see the military academies compete in the annual rivalry game.

His father returned in October from a six-month deployment in Southwest Asia.

While planning for the trip, Wilmoth said he wanted to go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“I wanted to let the soldiers know they are appreciated, and thank them for the sacrifices they make. They serve our county and help make us free. They do so much for us,” Wilmoth said.

Before leaving on his trip, Wilmoth asked his teacher, Joni Coats, and his classmates if they would get involved. They made Christmas cards for the service members in the hospital.

At the medical center, Wilmoth visited 15 wounded warriors in the trauma ward.

“A bunch of people did not have legs. They were badly hurt and could not get out of bed or anything. Most were hit by IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said.

Wilmoth gave the injured servicemen the handmade Christmas cards and gifts of soap, shampoo and lotion.

“They were very nice to me and thankful. They said they didn’t get very much from people,” Wilmoth said.

“I felt really good after giving the soldiers the gifts,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth plans to donate money to the Wounded Warrior Project. He said many of the injured soldiers have just come back from the war and didn’t have any clothes with them.

Wilmoth said the Wounded Warrior Project gives them clothes and helps them rehabilitate. It provides money for prosthetics and housing.

The other part of Wilmoth’s trip was going to the Army Navy football game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a dream of his. Wilmoth and his parents watched the game on the first row near the goal line close to the midshipmen’s cannon.

“It was cold and crowded but fun,” Wilmoth said.

Before kick-off, several fighter jets and four Apache helicopters flew over.

He said cadets marched into the stadium and formed squadrons. After each touchdown, they would shoot the cannon.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus were at the game and were seen on the big screen, Wilmoth said

Wilmoth saw his favorite football player on Navy’s team, co-captain and fullback Alexander Teich, play in his last game going into Navy SEALs training.

Navy won the game 21-27. Last spring break, Wilmoth and his parents went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. They toured the campus and sat in on a leadership class. Wilmoth met Teich and had pictures taken with him.

Wilmoth said he is keeping his grades up in school to be able to go to the Naval Academy. Last year he made a PowerPoint presentation about the Naval Academy.

In 2008, Wilmoth went on a summer trip to the Pentagon with his grandparents, Kaye and Jerry Burt of Brandon, Miss. Wilmoth met Mabus, the Navy secretary. Wilmoth’s grandmother had worked for Mabus when he was governor of Mississippi. Wilmoth said he made the Navy sound interesting.

During another summer vacation, Wilmoth, then 8 years old, visited San Diego and toured a Navy ship.