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Military Honors Heart Patient

6/10/2008 

She's only 11 years old but Haley Collins has been fighting battles all her life.

Born with a serious heart defect, Haley has undergone multiple surgeries at the Willson Heart Center at Children's Hospital Central California. The most recent surgery was just last week.

In recognition of her bravery, the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard presented the Los Osos native with the Medal of Courage during a ceremony in the Donor Recognition Area.

"It's a really special medal we have for people who exhibit outstanding courage," said Col. Chris Bricker, during the ceremony. "We heard about what you've been doing and the things you've been going through and we want to honor you by giving you the Medal of Courage today."

After Col. Bricker presented her with the medal and the citation was read, Fighter Pilot Lt. Col. Doug Weskamp gave Haley her wings, making her an honorary fighter pilot. He invited her to the base in Fresno to ride in the flight simulator, go on a tour and meet her new fellow pilots. The sixth-grader also received several special coins.

"It's very wonderful that she's being honored because she has faced a lot of things," said Bonnie Collins, Haley's mother. "For them to honor her for having such courage, it's just heart wrenching, it's wonderful and I'm glad that she gets to have that because I think she's earned it."

The 144th Fighter Wing's mission is to provide air defense protection for California from the Mexican border to Oregon utilizing the F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter aircraft. The 144th also supports the nation's Counter Drug Program and responds to state emergencies when requested by the Governor of California.