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NEWS | Jan. 21, 2015

Behind the iron mask

By Senior Airman Christopher Reel 1st Combat Camera Squadron

Beneath every superhero mask is an individual who steps into society with a mission to leave it better than how he or she found it.

Iron Man is one of the many superheroes who not only lives in comic books but is now thriving on the big screen and is a hero to many children.

Technical Sgt. Brian Thornton, 628th Air Base Wing Air Defense Council paralegal, didn't know that his idea, much like Tony Stark's, would put him behind a red and gold mask helping make the world a better place.

An idea, countless sketches, many hardware store runs, infinite hours of dedication mixed with times of frustration and ten months in the making allowed Thornton to finish his very own Iron Man.

"Everybody thought I was kind of crazy," said Thornton. "But I finally built the arm piece, and it looked pretty good. I then started with the bicep, and I just went one piece at a time and then the next thing you know I had the whole suit."

Like the real Iron Man, it was a work in progress.

"There were no blue prints and no directions to making this thing; and since it took so long, I would get frustrated," Thornton said.  "I used paper, car bondo, Plexiglas, nuts, bolts and anything I could find in the garage."

Making the suit proved to be a challenge in itself, however, the Thorntons had a goal, which fueled their motivation to complete the suit.

"When I began to see the potential this suit had, I told my wife I want to go to Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital," added Thornton. "I wanted to go see the children and try to brighten their day. That ended up being the driving force to finish this project. However, I did quit for a few weeks here and there over the ten months, but I kept thinking back to once it's finished I can go to M.U.S.C."

Once the suit parts were completed, the next big challenge was figuring out how to put them on. Luckily for Thornton, he has his wife.

"I'm pretty much J.A.R.V.I.S. [Tony Stark's home computing system]," said Joy Thornton, Tech. Sgt. Thornton's wife and Iron Man's assistant. "I assemble him, I take him out of it and I lead him where he needs to go. At first, it would take more than 45 minutes to get the suit on him, but the more and more we make visits and have to put the suit on, the easier it gets."

Looking back to the beginning of Thornton's Iron Man, Mrs. Thornton had her doubts about the project.

"When he first told me his idea, I told him he lost his mind," Mrs. Thornton said. "I told him he wouldn't get it done; I had a lot of doubt. I'm usually the 'putter-together' in the family. We get new furniture -- I put it together, and he walks out of the room. But, he obviously proved me wrong. I'm very proud of him."

What started off as a one man project, turned into a family mission.

"My son would help me out in the garage with sanding and painting, and my wife was always encouraging me," said Thornton. "My wife puts Iron Man on me every time we make a visit somewhere. I couldn't do this without her."

Since completing Iron Man, they've gone to the children's hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, their child's school and the deployed spouses' dinner on base.

"We hope by doing this we can affect somebody's life in a positive way," added Mrs. Thornton. "That there might be a kid that is sick and Iron Man might be what brightens his or her day or brings hope that things will get better. When we go into a classroom to see the little kids knowing some might be having a bad day, struggling with classes or have problems at home, we hope to make a personal connection between Iron Man and them to help make their life better." 

When the sergeant isn't working as Iron Man, being the hero to so many local children and families, he is in his other superhero suit -- his Air Force uniform.

Thornton's job in the Air Force is to help defend Airmen who have been accused of a crime.

"There are people out there that do bad things and there are people that don't but are accused, and I like that he gives them a chance to try to save their life and career," said Mrs. Thornton. "He's just too humble to say it himself. He's saved many Airmen's careers whose lives would be ruined if it wasn't for him and the team of attorneys."

Regardless of which duty may call, the Thorntons are always ready to make the world a better place.