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Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez explains a few things about the Black Hawk while sitting on top the helicopter with Daniele Montico, 6, and his father, Mauro.

Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez explains a few things about the Black Hawk while sitting on top the helicopter with Daniele Montico, 6, and his father, Mauro. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez explains a few things about the Black Hawk while sitting on top the helicopter with Daniele Montico, 6, and his father, Mauro.

Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez explains a few things about the Black Hawk while sitting on top the helicopter with Daniele Montico, 6, and his father, Mauro. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez shows Daniele Montico, 6, how to grip the controls of a Black Hawk helicopter parked Friday in a hangar at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Daniele, who has leukemia, was given a special tour of the base and got the opportunity to see Army and Air Force equipment and vehicles close up.

Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez shows Daniele Montico, 6, how to grip the controls of a Black Hawk helicopter parked Friday in a hangar at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Daniele, who has leukemia, was given a special tour of the base and got the opportunity to see Army and Air Force equipment and vehicles close up. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Daniele Montico isn’t nearly old enough to drive a car. Yet the 6-year-old Italian national got a chance to sit behind the controls of a Black Hawk helicopter and an F-16 fighter jet.

Daniele, diagnosed with leukemia last year, got a special tour of the base Friday and was treated like a VIP by Air Force and Army personnel.

It wasn’t a stretch for Army 2nd Lt. Jose Marquez and other members of Company G, 52nd Aviation Regiment. That’s the soldiers’ primary duty — escorting VIPs.

Still, Marquez was obviously moved by the situation.

“I’m a father of three,” he said before fitting a helmet on Daniele and helping him into the pilot’s seat. “If my kid had a dream like that, I would do anything I could to make it happen.”

Daniele’s dream, seeing U.S. military vehicles up close, came true do to the efforts of the Italian group Libero and coordination with the U.S. Consulate in Milan.

Base officials said they were only too happy to make it happen. Daniele got fitted into a flight suit after arriving on base, then went over to the helicopter that was waiting in Hangar 1.

Marquez, speaking a mix of Spanish and Italian, took Daniele and his family around the helicopter, then they all climbed on and went through the steps of getting ready for lift off. Daniele’s older brother, Andrea, 9, got a chance to sit next to him as well.

Mauro Montico, Daniele’s father, is a police inspector in Belluno, a city about an hour’s drive northwest of Aviano. He said his son was diagnosed with the disease in November and immediately began receiving treatment at a facility in Padova.

The treatment was so severe that he received burns on his right arm that had doctors thinking about amputation. But further specialized treatment saved his arm. He’s still taking pills daily and will resume chemotherapy treatment in November.

Mauro Montico said a promise that he would get to see American vehicles up close boosted his spirits during the treatments. He called the family’s reception on base “very warm.”

Daniele and his family were scheduled to eat on base, watch F-16s take off, explore the aircraft and meet with Brig. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, later in the day.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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