At age 13, “Pvt.” Erick Morales can say he’s commanded one of the most powerful rocket and missile launchers in the Army, led the charge against an invading horde and helped ensure that an Army National Guard training site was safe from fire and explosives.
And the kid hasn’t even been to basic training.
“The experience so far has been amazing, especially for Erick,” said his mother Maria Morales, a smile across her face. “Because he’s gotten to do things that normally nobody gets to do unless you’re in the military.”
Her son has muscular dystrophy, a disease that is crippling his body from his legs to his arms. Add to that scoliosis, an ailment that causes curvature of the spine.
She sought the aid of the Wyoming National Guard to help her son live his dream of becoming a soldier.
On Thursday the Morales family was dispatched to the state’s training site, the Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center, and paired with the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment, an active-duty unit based at Fort Sill, Okla., but training in Wyoming.
“He was up at about 5 o’clock this morning and ready to go,” Maria said. “Mommy wasn’t ready to go yet, but he was ready to go.
“It means a lot. It means there’s still good in the world. People want to help kids like Erick and make their wish come true. Things that normally they might not get to do.”
Col. Harold Walker, the base operations manager for Camp Guernsey, said the Morales’ visit may have had a primary focus of helping a boy realize his dream, but the secondary effects were felt by the whole staff.
“It just gives them an opportunity to do something for a young person who would otherwise not have the opportunity to experience some of these things, “he said. “It is really a feel-good thing for all of the crew, and it’s a great opportunity for them.”
Erick arrived at the Guernsey Army Airfield from his home in Powell by a private plane flown by Pilots for Christ. He was greeted by soldiers, media and immediately received his first duty assignment: to go on patrol as a member of the Camp Guernsey Fire Department.
After a lap around the camp’s cantonment area — complete with lights and sirens — Erick was given an opportunity to command an M88 Recovery Vehicle — a tank-sized tow truck — and an M270A1 Multiple Launch Rocket System launcher.
While Erick measured in at just less than 5 feet tall and uses a wheelchair, his smile made a positive effect on those around him.
“He’s just the most amazing kid you would ever meet. He could brighten your day even if you’re having a bad day. He’s just got such energy in him. It’s amazing,” Maria said.
“You’ve got someone who’s facing some hardships in life. If we can bring their morale up, it helps bring our morale up helping somebody else out, completing a wish for somebody else,” said Sgt. Samuel Rasmussen with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment, who watched as the honorary soldier was carried in and out of the military vehicles.
Rasmussen said he empathized with the Morales family, noting that he has dealt with relatives who’ve suffered crippling illnesses.
“It could happen to anybody, somebody in my family, myself, somebody in my crew. My heart goes out to them,” he said. “It’s a real hardship on the family, and us doing something like this for them, it makes you feel good inside.”
Erick’s smile brightened after being seated in the M88, and it grew when the vehicle began to roll down the streets of Camp Guernsey.
His smile was contagious. The crewman, Pfc. Kevon McLaren, of Bridgeport, Conn., almost never broke his own smile as he helped hold Erick in place. Maria never broke her son’s grip, as they held hands through the special ride-along.
Later, the camp’s simulation center afforded Erick the opportunity to engage computer targets, using military rifles and machine guns.
Then simulated explosions.
After the simulated battle, he said his favorite role was firing the machine gun, and his favorite part of being a soldier was “going to war.”
1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen is public affairs specialist for the Wyoming National Guard.