Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas --
When Senior Airman Anthony Guiteau, a member of the 149th Logistics Readiness Squadron, took his nephew to a comic convention three years ago and saw all of the cosplayers dressed up as popular characters from movies, books or video games, the experience left him with an idea of a way to give back to the community.
“I saw all of the smiles and everyone looked so happy, but I thought I could do a costume bigger and better, and it turned into a personal goal,” said Guiteau.
He commissioned a customized costume of one of his favorite movie characters and waited six months for it to arrive.
As soon as the costume came in, Guiteau began visiting children’s hospitals and rehab centers dressed as the character.
“I enjoy being around kids and seeing them smile when I walk in because they really think I’m War Machine,” Guiteau said. “When you can brighten a kid’s day, it just changes the world. Some of them have gone through cancer or have been in car accidents. Knowing I can bring them smiles really touches my heart. Even those who are unable to talk – you just know they’re happy.”
Guiteau attributes the magical effect the costume has on people to its realism.
“It’s made of hard foam and resin, not metal, so it’s very light,” said Guiteau. “But the paint job and finishing is what makes it look so realistic because of the extreme detail. I have a battle-worn version so it looks like he’s gone through a war and it still looks good when kids pull on it.”
One of Guiteau’s coworkers and friends, Master Sgt. Rebecca Gonzales, said he does need some help putting on the costume.
“I’ve helped him put it on before, and it was pretty neat to see how he puts it all together,” said Gonzales. “It lights up and makes sounds, and when the kids see him, it’s like Christmas came early.”
But the costume’s appearance and gadgets aren't the only reason it seems so real.
“When Guiteau goes into character, he’s like a totally different person,” Gonzales said. “And it’s funny because he’s usually reserved and keeps to himself, but when he puts that suit on, he becomes animated just like the machine that you see in the movie, and he talks like the character. But at the same time, the character brings out who Guiteau is on the inside, and it’s cool to see. Even better, he doesn’t do it for himself. He does it for the children, and to be able to provide that for kids is pretty awesome.”
Guiteau cosplays for charity for about ten hours a month during his free time.
Lory Dobels, the wife of a fellow 149th FW member who also cosplays for charities, said that when she’s putting a team of cosplayers together for a hospital visit, she often thinks of Guiteau.
“Sometimes we’ll call him to come out, and if he’s not working he always comes through,” said Dobels. “When he’s in the costume interacting with the kids, he’s very welcoming and draws them out through interaction. He breaks down their barriers and makes their dreams come true.”
Dobels believes staying in character is a key ingredient to the dream-granting experience.
“It’s about providing support from someone they truly believe is a hero and giving them strength,” Dobels said.
Although the circumstances surrounding Guiteau’s visits aren’t always lighthearted, when it’s picture time, the kids aren’t the only ones excited.
“For the most part, you can’t see my face while I’m in costume,” said Guiteau. “But when the parents say cheese, I’m smiling as big as the kids are. I’m just a big kid at heart, and I’ve been fortunate enough to buy these elaborate costumes and wear them.”
Guiteau recently acquired another costume of a popular movie character, and it arrived complete with robotic noises and an electronic voice changer.
He offers this suggestion for those interested in cosplay: “Do it for the cause, and do it from your heart,” said Guiteau. “You can’t do it for alternative motives, or it won’t work. You can wear any type of costume – just go out there and see what the kids think of you. It’s all about your personality.”