Military personnel are often role models for wish kids because they are examples of strength and resilience. Their peak physical fitness, emotional fortitude and dedication to their team serve as inspiration for kids battling draining, isolating illnesses. Stepping into their boots for a day can give a wish kid a chance to push beyond their physical limitations and become a real-life superhero.
Also, the reality is that, for many wish kids, a life in the military is unlikely. Because of the current requirements for enlistment, a preexisting illness can prevent them from serving their country. That’s why military wishes are so powerful – they allow wish kids to be a part of a meaningful team and cherish that memory for the rest of their lives.
Training Wish Kids to be Survivors
Eleck knew that he could not join the Army Rangers like his grandfather because of his cystic fibrosis – so he decided to wish himself into the Army. Though he had health problems leading up to the big day, the promise of being a Ranger only motivated him to fight harder for recovery. At Fort Benning in Georgia, he and his brother got to train alongside the other Rangers, even braving a deep ravine for a mock rescue mission. “Several of the Rangers said it was the single greatest thing they did in their Army career,” Eleck’s mother reports.
Like Eleck, Jonah also has a personal connection to the military. His brother, Jared, was currently serving at the Misawa Air Base in Japan when he made his wish. Senior Master Sergeant Harry Nichols was extremely receptive to recruiting Jonah for the day, having lost some of his own close family members to cancer, and made sure he would be accepted into the Air Force just as if he were one of their own. Jonah got to sit in a fighter plane, watch a dog demonstration, and complete a simulated parachute jump. The wish alleviated stress for both Jonah and Jared, letting them focus on their bond and the times ahead.
Evan, on the other hand, was inspired by the movie “Top Gun” and wished to be a Navy pilot at just 5 years old. Major Chip Berke did the honor of giving him a tour around the Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada. Not to be outdone, Base Admiral Mat Moffit gave him a certificate at his graduation ceremony while Congressman Jim Gibbons had a flag flown for him back in Washington D.C. Evan even got to take the flag home on his birthday.
Alisa shared Evan’s raw enthusiasm and determination not to let her brain tumor get in the way of her goal to be a Marine. At Camp Pendleton, she received a Private First Class badge and uniform and later joined the recruits on stage as they became full-fledged Marines. She was also awarded an honorary title. Sgt. Major Frank Cirou recognized her bravery, saying, “We all battle our own wars and you’re battling one of the highest ones.” He then gave her a challenge coin to take home, which is sure to boost her morale as she moves forward.
Just like Alisa, Jaeda formed a close connection with her wish granters. She spent two whole days with Coast Guard rescue swimmers for her wish at the Aviation Training Center in Alabama. For the first half of her wish, the swimmers taught her how to control a helicopter and use the sea rescue gear. Her favorite part of the wish, though, was jumping out of a helicopter for a simulated rescue mission in the middle of the ocean. The swimmers were sure to take good care for her, even giving her some gear to bring home and the title of “Honorary Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer.”
Multiple branches of the military have also joined forces to grant one very creative wish. Carl wished to be a WWII pilot who had crashed on an island and needed to survive. To prepare, he trained with Air Force pilots at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Then, he traveled to Hawaii where he spent the night with a squadron of Marines on the USS Missouri, flew in a Stearman biplane, got rescued by some Navy SEAL divers, and captured “enemies” (Marines) on the island. His mother reflects, “The whole survivor theme was really interesting to us – that he picked this wish that was about surviving in a completely different way than surviving a diagnosis of leukemia. He’s a survivor in so many ways.”
Due to the kindness of those who serve, all six wish kids had wonderful experiences that helped them on their path to health. We can only hope that more wish kids have the chance to follow in their footsteps so that they can learn lessons of honor, integrity, and courage firsthand.