My name is John Hopper, TD2557, also known as “Quartermaster”. I have been a very proud member of the 501st Legion and Empire City Garrison going on 5 years now. A Star Wars Fan you say? No doubt, but there is much more to it than that for me.
Like many who serve as volunteers for the Legion, I have always had a love of Star Wars since the 1st movie hit the silver screen back in 1977. I was 8 then. Who new 32 years later I would be one of those iconic characters I grew up loving as a child.
For me, my Legion career started before I was even in the Legion, with the birth of my 1st child, Aidan.
As a baby of only 5 months, Aidan made his 1st trip to Disney World with us and has been lucky enough to go every year since. He was never afraid of any of the Disney Characters, including Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers we sometimes would see during our visits. He was attracted to everything Star Wars from a very early age. From the time he was 3, he had to be a Star Wars character for Halloween every year. He would start talking about what he wanted to be 6 months before Halloween! He has been a TK, a Clone, Captain Rex, Jango Fett…you name it!
In March of 2007, my wife Jennifer and I were blessed to have our 2nd and 3rd children. Yes, we had twins! Two beautiful boys! Life was about to change drastically. Little did I know just how drastically. My life in the Legion was also getting that much closer.
Our Twins however were born premature and one of them spent his 1st 3 weeks in the NICU. We got past those early scares and our boys came home. Early on, there seemed to be something just not quite right, although my wife Jennifer and I just couldn’t put our finger on it. As parents of an amazing 1st child, you tell yourself things like, “All children develop differently” or “Not all kids do the same things at the same time”. At about 6 months however, all those things we were in denial about, started to become all too real.
Initially, the twins were diagnosed with things like “low tone” and “weak trunks”. We started Physical Therapy sessions daily. When they weren’t meeting there milestones for speech on time, Speech Therapy was started. When they weren’t crawling or walking on time, OT was started. Eventually, it snowballed into 4 therapy sessions per child, per day an hour each session, 6 days a week. For my wife Jennifer, it was now a full time job. Whispers of “Autism” were being heard from the Therapists quite regularly. It was just a low point in our lives. Days blurred one into the next, with no end in sight.
In early 2009, around the Twins 2nd birthday, they still weren’t walking or talking. My oldest son, of course, was already setting his sights on his next Halloween Costume. This year, however, he said “Dad, you should get a Star Wars costume too and trick or treat with me!” Things in our life were pretty stressful to say the least, so when my wife encouraged me to do it, I thought it would be fun and would make him so happy. I set to work on the computer, scouring the Party, Costume and eBay sites to find just the right one to surprise him with.
While searching online late one night, I stumbled onto an eBay listing for an actual suit of Stormtrooper Armor! I had no idea this stuff was even out there! The listing was quite expensive, so of course I quickly dismissed it, but something about the listing caught my attention. It said it was fully 501st approved. What the hell was 501st approved? Google provided me with the answer.
My initial visit to the 501st website was awe inspiring. I was like a kid in a candy store. The costumes looked so real and one was better than the next! The thing that hit home however was what the Legion did. The reason all these adults were building these suits and wearing them. To help those in need, especially the kids. To help raise awareness for things like Children’s Cancer Research and Autism.
There it was, that word again, Autism. That word was like nails on a chalk board for me. As much as I didn’t want to believe it was happening to me, my children, my family, it was always there.
Seeing it on the 501st website felt different to me. Somehow, it almost felt like hope. It was then that I had 3 new goals in my life. A Bucket list of sorts.
1) Find a suit of armor that I could afford and make my son AJ, the Star Wars nut, the happiest kid on the planet!
2) Find a suit of armor I could afford and somehow join this 501st group.
3) Find a suit of armor I could afford and make a difference in my twins lives.
I will never forget the night as long as I live. It was July and I was working an overnight shift at work. I was killing time and surfing the web when I logged onto eBay. I had been searching for months for a costume, but was losing hope of finding an affordable suit of armor before Halloween. Then, there it was. A listing that someone posted as a “buy it now” at around 2am. I must have been the first person to see it, because, knowing what I know now, there is no way this would have lasted till morning.
It was a partially built suit of FX Sandtrooper Armor, needs work, $250.
I couldn’t hit the buy button fast enough! Days went by and I almost couldn’t control myself. Finally, that big brown box arrived. I hadn’t told my wife or my son about it. It was my surprise. Unfortunately, it did need work, a lot of it. The thighs were ruined. The guy who had it must not have known what he was doing and butchered them up pretty good. Luckily, a few days later, I saw a post from a guy in Colorado selling replacement “VT” Armor thighs. I scooped them up and set to work.
It took me about 2 months, but my Sandtrooper came to life. One night while the kids were all downstairs watching cartoons after dinner, I snuck outside into the garage and suited up. I called my wife out and she almost had a heart attack! Of course she thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I told her I was going around to the front door to ring the bell. There are times as a parent that you see the joy in your child’s face and think “this is why I wanted to have kids. This is what life is all about.”
Aidan opening that front door to see a real Star Wars Sandtrooper standing on the front porch was one of those times. I thought he was going to cry. He of course invited me in without question and started shouting for me saying “Dad, Dad, hurry! There is a real Sandtrooper here to see me!” I played it off as long as I could and then took my helmet off. He was simply amazed. I can only guess what he was feeling, but I’m sure part of it was pride. After all, not too many kids can say that their Dad is a Sandtrooper! It has been a roller coaster ride since then.
1) Made my Son the happiest kid on the planet! His Dad is a Sandtrooper!
2) Was approved by the Empire City Garrison GML Daniel Carlton as a TD in November 2009.
3) Have trooped many events, all for good causes and have enriched the lives of my twins, my family and others around me ever since.
Since those early days, I now have three suits I troop regularly. Animated Commander Gree and Animated Captain Rex in Snow Gear are two of my newest creations. I have also become one of the Legions most well-known Sandtrooper Backpack builders. I even was recently commissioned to build a TD Captains Pack for none other than the original Sandtrooper himself, Mr. Anthony Forrest.
And remember that eBay armor I told you about I bought for $250? It is still my Sandtrooper Armor today.
It was my 1st suit; it has seen many troops, been in many pictures, given me many armor bites and put smiles on many faces. I will keep it and troop it as long as I can.