Military News

Friday, March 06, 2015

Anything is possible: A new "Gage" on life

by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs


3/6/2015 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- One of Team Whiteman's priorities is to grow Airman leaders. Taking high schoolers who are interested in the Air Force and providing mentorship is one way of doing that.

Morgan Hildebrand, 509th Bomb Wing secretary, has taken a young teenager under her wing to help mold him into a prospective Airman.

Gage Baska is a 15-year-old teenager Hildebrand found a year and a half ago in Blue Springs, Mo., standing by a highway holding up a sign saying, "I got caught stealing and I lie to my family."

"He had been standing out there for a good 45 minutes when Morgan just happened to drive by," said Gage's mother, Alysia Brown. "She pulled into the parking lot where we were and started speaking to my husband about her life and what she went through."

Hildebrand came up with a mentorship program for Gage. Working directly with multiple units on base, she planned for him to come to Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., to tour various units.

"Gage came to my squadron for a few hours and I gave him a tour and a few briefings to show him what we were capable of," said Staff Sgt. Zachary Hildebrand, 20th Reconnaissance Squadron mission intelligence coordinator.

Zachary also gave Gage inspirational tools that could change the outcome of his life. He learned of the possibilities of what could happen if he re-vectored his life, started making better choices and surrounded himself with positive influences.

"When Morgan told me about Gage it reminded me a lot of my younger brother," Zachary said. "I feel like I really connected with him, and joining the Air Force could be a great opportunity for him. He has unlimited potential."

The base visits were used as an incentive for Gage to change his ways.

"Through his mom and Lt. Col. Alex Jernigan, 13th Bomb Squadron director of operations, Gage could continue to visit Whiteman as long as he continued to pursue positive changes in his life," Hildebrand said.

Morgan and Brown emailed each other once a month to keep track of Gage's progress.

"Once he started visiting the base, there was a huge change," Brown said.

Not only did Gage stop stealing and lying, but he looked forward to the base visits.

"He would consistently bother me and ask when we're going," Brown said. "It's amazing to see that he's doing better because he was struggling a lot."

In addition to Hildebrand's program helping Gage stay out of trouble, it also strengthened his relationship with his mother.

"She clearly loves and cares about Gage," Hildebrand said. "She's doing everything on the list to say 'What can we do to repair what's broken between parent and child?'"
The program has given Gage's mom an opportunity to see her son doing something positive with himself, Hildebrand said.

"We honestly don't know where Gage would be if it wasn't for Morgan introducing us to this program," Brown said.

Leaders can be grown at any stage of life, and it's important for military members to engage themselves in their community, Zachary said.

"Little kids look up to us," Zachary said. "I love being at the store when a little boy says 'Hey mommy a soldier!' It's funny because they don't know the difference between a soldier and an Airman, but they know we fight bad guys and protect this great nation."

Zachary stressed that military members should set the example for others in their community, in addition to peers and subordinates.

"It's our job as military members to reinforce a positive image, and we can't do that if we sit at home," Zachary said. "It's amazing to see what Team Whiteman has done with Gage, as a community. I can't wait to see him grow as a young man, and I will continue to check up on him and help whenever I'm able."

"The monthly visits helped changed my overall view of life," Gage said. "Now I see there is something out there to look forward to if I stay out of trouble."

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