Becoming a US Army Ranger is one of the hardest things a person can do. It requires courage and immense strength.
But Master Sergeant Alexander Barnett - who can march miles a day wearing a 50-pound pack and do more than 50 pushups per minute – thinks Riley can teach him a few things about being tough.
Barnett met Riley when the 14-year-old asked Make-A-Wish® if he could see how the Rangers train. The 16-year Army veteran was often awed by the teen diagnosed with a life-threatening respiratory condition, as he ran him through drills at Camp James E. Rudder - where the Rangers tackle the swamp phase of their training.
“I was shocked that he asked to do this,” Barnett tells reporters. “He’s a city boy. He could’ve asked to go to the Super Bowl.”
Watching movies like Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers inspired Riley to research the physically and mentally exhausting training Rangers endure. That led him to the 6th Ranger Training Battalion - the secluded camp houses for Ranger trainees and instructors during the final phase of their training.
Fortunately, Riley didn’t have to arrive like the other students: by parachute.
But that doesn’t mean his hosts planned for him to be a spectator. They started slowly, seeing how he reacted to challenges like crawling in mud and crossing a rope bridge in frigid water. They wanted to give him a sense of accomplishment and see how he far he wanted to push himself.
“We pushed him to the limit, and he was awesome,” said Master Sergeant Jose Marengo. “That boy’s got nothing to prove. He’s tough.”
Marengo didn’t even deduct points when Riley decided not to rappel.
“That was too scary,” Riley tells The Bayonet, a newspaper covering Ft. Benning. “I just couldn’t do it.”
During his training Riley floats through a swamp on a Zodiac inflatable boat and watches as 64 Rangers parachuted from a C-130 airplane at night. He also does a practice jump from a mockup of a C-130.
On graduation day at Fort Benning, Riley’s mother pins the Ranger tab to the custom uniform the Rangers gave him. He recites the Ranger creed from memory. And does his best to keep his eyes dry…along with his mentor, Marengo.
“I wasn’t the only one,” Marengo insisted.