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Pilot, boy share painful memory

Most people say they hate those e-mails that have been forwarded multiple times, and Navy Lt. Dave Bartell was no exception. But one caught his attention in a very personal way.

The e-mail related the story of a young boy in Colorado who had been badly mauled in a dog attack last December. Not only was Bartell from a nearby town, he had also been mauled by a dog when he was just a toddler. He knew what Garrett Carothers, then 8, was going through.

The flight instructor at Whidbey Naval Air Station had a new mission: show this boy there was hope.

“I had multiple plastic surgeries,” Bartell said, pointing to faint scars on his face, “but no one here knew about it until I told them.”

After corresponding with Garrett and his family in Pagosa Springs, Colo. for nearly a year, Bartell wanted to meet Garrett in person. He had hoped to fly his Prowler into a nearby Colorado airfield, but that didn’t work out. Instead he invited the whole family to come to Whidbey Island for a personal tour of the Navy base.

“I’ve got a really cool job,” Bartell said. “I wanted to share that and brighten his day.”

Garrett, his parents Cindy and Rick, and brothers Ryan and Dalton, spent three days last week getting the royal treatment at the base.

Garrett, now 9, was looking ship shape in a flight suit and leather bomber jacket. A red-white-and-blue headscarf completed the look.

Garrett was greeted warmly Friday by Bartell’s crewmates in the VAQ-129 ready room. As he curled up in a big leather chair, his mother told his story, as she has so many times. Bartell’s 7-year-old son Jake sat on one side, Bartell on the other.

Garrett’s battle began on Dec. 23, 2002, when he went outside his suburban home to play. As he knocked on the neighbor’s door two dogs, one a pit bull, the other a Rottweiler-retriever mix, came out of nowhere and attacked without warning.

“They started mauling me right there,” Garrett said quietly against the din of the ready room.

The dogs dragged him across the street and into his own yard. Passersby, who saw the dogs hovering over Garrett, thought the bloody mess was a dog that had been hit by a car. Fortunately they stopped and chased the dogs off. The pit bull was shot as it tried to attack a deputy who responded to the scene. The Rottweiler-mix was quarantined, but later released.

Garrett had more than 40 bites all over his body, as well as on his face. One ear was torn, and a nerve was severed in his cheek. His scalp was completely gone.

Garrett seemed to grow smaller in the big chair as his mother recounted his ordeal. Thin scars trace his freckled cheeks.

Ten hours of emergency surgery was the beginning of a year of reconstructive surgeries.

Under Garrett’s patriotic “dew rag” is a patchwork of skin grafts. His mother said doctors hope to stretch the small patch of scalp remaining on the back of his skull to eventually cover his head. His hair will always be sparse.

While his trip to Whidbey air base was a constant reminder of what happened, it was also a chance to forget for a few days, and just be a kid.

Bartell packed a lot into three short days for Garrett and his family. In his tour of the base Garrett met Bartell’s squadron and base commander Capt. Stephen Black, watched the final run of the pilot training Dilbert Dunker, and sat in both a Prowler and a flight simulator.

“As many bad things as have happened (to Garrett), I wanted to show him good things will come of it,” Bartell said.

Garrett seemed particularly pleased with his newly-appointed call sign, printed on his leather name badge.

“They call me ‘G-Man,’” he said, a spark of playfulness lighting up his eyes.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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