Misawa embraces brothers' reunion
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Jonah Skrove is a hugger.
Exiting the breezeway at the Misawa City Airport near Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jonah affectionately embraced nearly everyone in sight, including his brother, Airman 1st Class Jared Skrove.
Gatherings are commonplace for members of the military and their families, but the reason for the Skrove's reunion is far from ordinary.
Jonah is a self-described nerdy, obnoxious 17-year-old senior at Zimmerman High School in Minnesota who is battling a life-threatening bone cancer. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma last fall, Jonah was given the opportunity through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to do anything or go anywhere he wanted.
Instead of going to Disney or meeting a star athlete, Jonah wished to travel half-way around the world to see his brother, an electrical and environmental maintenance specialist with the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. The foundation made sure his parents and sister also had seats on the flight.
"I haven't seen him since Christmas, and he's basically my best friend," Jonah said. "I didn't think they'd be able to send everybody - I thought it would maybe be like one or two of us. I was kind of dreading having to pick between parents, but they sent all of us - it was very generous."
Jonah's cancer was detected in his right leg in September 2012 while his brother was in Air Force basic military training. His family felt the news would hinder Airman Skrove's progress in BMT, so he wasn't told about the diagnosis until after he graduated.
"We held back a lot from him because we didn't want it to interfere with what he was going through and how excited he was going to be about graduating, and that was tough because they're so close," said their father, Jeff Skrove. "We worried about how Jared would take it - I think he had several tough times at that stage in his service."
While Airman Skrove was at technical training, Jonah's right leg was amputated below the knee, raising his survival rate from 50 to 70 percent. Despite a tight, strict training schedule, Airman Skrove's instructors made sure he had time to cope.
"I was a mess," Airman Skrove said. "When I got to call him after surgery and I heard how much pain he was in, I was devastated. It was hard, but knowing that there are better times to come...that's what I'm looking forward to."
The Skroves didn't have to wait too long for a pick-me-up. Every 38 minutes the Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wish of a 3- to 17-year-old child who is battling a life-threatening illness. Jonah was notified his wish would come true earlier this spring.
However, Airman Skrove's first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Harry Nichols, only found out about the Skrove family's trip two days before they arrived here. Unbeknownst to Airman Skrove, Nichols has lost two immediate family members to cancer, and has a soft place in his heart for survivors. The first sergeant quickly began formulating a plan for the Skroves.
"First I wanted to strangle Jared for not giving me a heads up," Nichols joked, "but after that I wanted to set something up to show the family what we're all about."
Nichols reached out to the 35th Force Support and Security Forces Squadrons, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Life Support and Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape flights, and the 13th Fighter Squadron and AMU for assistance. The end result was a tour consisting of grenade launchers, a military working dog demonstration, night vision goggles and helmets, an F-16 static display, a weapons load demo, a simulated parachute jump, a controlled explosive detonation and a call sign for Jonah, "New Jack."
But why would any members of the 35th Fighter Wing go through the trouble of setting up a visit for individuals they've never met? For Nichols, the answer is simple.
"I care about all people," Nichols said. "It's amazing the support we got for this, all the credit goes to those guys (who put this together). I'm just happy I could facilitate some of this."
Airman Skrove was humbled by his Wingmen.
"They've sacrificed the time out of their busy schedules to show a few cool things to my family -- it really means a lot to me," the airman said. "I like just having time with my family, but the few days we got to spend with my Air Force means a lot to me too. The Air Force is a good family to have."
Their motivation for this good deed is also similar to the reasoning behind Jonah's willingness to wrap his arms around someone he doesn't even know.
"A few years ago I started asking if people needed a hug or anything because sometimes (people) have a bad day, but they just don't show it," Jonah said. "You may not even realize it, but you may have made their day that much better."
A hug may not mean anything to most of the world, but it could mean the world to one person, he continued.
Before leaving Misawa, Jonah made the rounds, giving every Airman in sight a hug. To him, these were no longer strangers, but an extended family of sorts. Each individual played a role in making his reunion with his brother more memorable than he could have ever wished for, and that, to him, meant the world.