By Megan GarciaAugust 2, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- It was three years ago when Wayne Smith said he noticed his grandson, Eli Wilson, had suddenly become fascinated with the U.S. Army, specifically the World War II era. He not only began constructing various vehicles of the time period out of Legos, but he could also name and describe military vehicles and military-grade weapons in vast detail.
"All he talks about is the Army; Airborne, tanks, Infantry, Artillery or anything to do with the Army," said Smith. "He dressed up as a Soldier for Halloween. He has Omaha Beach Normandy landing photos, a World War II-era Army helmet on a shelf among other Army memorabilia in his bedroom."
Smith added his grandson would most likely join the Army if he could, but he knows he will not be able to as Wilson was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Nonetheless, Smith wanted to do something special for his grandson, who had not only expressed his interest in meeting Soldiers, but also in specifically meeting a sergeant.
Smith and Wilson, accompanied by Wilson's grandmother Sandy Smith, visited Fort Benning, Georgia, July 26 to make Eli's wish come true and received the support of the civilians and Soldiers of the post.
The family started their morning by attending the Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, Basic Combat Training graduation at the National Infantry Museum before touring the museum. Following the tour, Wilson was surprised with a lunch at the Fort Benning Noncommissioned Officer Academy dining facility, where Wilson had lunch with several sergeants.
"I was almost in tears when those sergeants surrounded him and made him happy," Smith said.
Nevertheless, Smith was not the only one moved by the lunch at the dining facility.
"I was honored, and although I had a lot of pride in my job, I have a lot more now," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Ivy, an instructor at the NCOA Basic Leader Course and one of the NCOs who ate lunch with Wilson. "You can just tell it made his world to come sit with us."
Following the lunch, Wilson was given a tour of the Airborne Museum, where he was named an honorary command sergeant major. The Fort Benning Exchange presented him with his own uniform, complete with command sergeant major rank and his surname tape. Wilson also received a 1-507th Parachute Infantry Regiment unit patch for his uniform from Sgt. 1st Class Guy Wycoff, the 1-507th PIR Headquarters and Headquarters Company assistant operations sergeant.
For Wycoff, being a part of Wilson's day had a special meaning, as Wycoff's son is autistic.
"I am very happy to have met him and to represent the 1-507th parachute Infantry Regiment," Wycoff said.
He also ensured Wilson was able to meet and see Soldiers in Airborne training at the U.S. Army Airborne School.
The 316th Cavalry Brigade then hosted Wilson, where he had the chance to see and get inside an M1 Abrams Battle Tank and a Stryker armored vehicle.
Staff Sgt. Jason Turner, who serves as an instructor for the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, was one of two NCOs who helped Wilson navigate his way through the various vehicles. Turner said when he asked if he would participate in the visit, his answer was a yes, without question.
Turner added it was a great experience to see Wilson's insightfulness and enthusiasm during his visit.
Smith also said he enjoyed seeing his grandson light up throughout the day, and he's overwhelmed with the support they received.
"I'm in awe of all that Fort Benning has done for Eli," said Eli's grandfather. "His favorite part was making new friends with all of the sergeants. This absolutely made his day."