Private wish: Teen fulfills dream of being a Soldier
November 10, 2011
FORT JACKSON, Sc.c. -- Alyssa Braden could have had any wish in the world fulfilled. But -- in lieu of meeting a celebrity or visiting a theme park -- the diminutive teen chose to get down and dirty.
Her wish? To join the Army.
The 13-year-old from Texas has spent the past week training with battalions in Fort Jackson's 193rd Infantry Brigade through coordination with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Alyssa participated in morning physical training sessions, rappelled down Victory Tower, conducted convoy training missions, qualified on an M16, and saw the life that she would live as a Soldier in training.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation allows children to dream big by granting a "wish" to those suffering from a life-threatening medical condition. Alyssa said she chose joining the Army as her wish because her cystic fibrosis makes it impossible for her to enlist in the future due to Department of Defense medical restrictions.
"My uncle was in the Army and he's my favorite uncle," Alyssa said. "When I saw him, I just always thought of him as a hero and I wanted to be like him."
During recent family discussions, Alyssa and her family realized that she would have some trouble joining the Army.
"We have been talking to recruiters with her older sister," said Alyssa's mother, Maggie Braden. "When Alyssa found out about asthma issues in the Army, she was devastated because she knows what she has is much worse than that."
According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, cystic fibrosis is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system characterized by the body's production of unusually thick, sticky mucus that often clogs the lungs, leading to life-threatening lung infections.
Those who suffer from the disease often deal with wheezing and shortness of breath, frequent lung infections and persistent coughing.
Now, more than 13 months ago after being referred to the Make-A-Wish, she was able to see her wish fulfilled. She said her time with the Soldiers and drill sergeants at Fort Jackson has lived up to her dreams.
"It's been fun and hard here, but I liked all of it," Alyssa said. "The best part was firing an AT-4 (anti-tank weapon), and I liked meeting the 'villagers' on the convoy training. Going down Victory Tower was scary, but I did it anyway. I knew if I didn't do it, I would feel bad and cry, so I just did it."
Maggie Braden said she enjoyed seeing Alyssa adopt the Army Values to overcome training obstacles.
"They really do live those values. The drill sergeants talked her through the Army Values just before she did Victory Tower and personal courage was exactly what she worked on during that drill."
The rest of Alyssa's family was also touched by Alyssa's experience at Fort Jackson.
"It made me so happy to hear her say she was proud of herself when she qualified out on the range," said Lee Braden, Alyssa's father. "She's hard on herself all of the time. To see her finally say she was proud, that meant a lot to me."
Her sister, Chessa, 18, went through the training with Alyssa and said she is even more convinced the Army might be in her future.
"I've had fun here. This had made me even more excited to come join now," Chessa said.
Wednesday, the Army's Golden Knights jumped in to present Alyssa with a personalized baton as she graduated with the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment at Hilton Field. Alyssa -- who was promoted to private first class Tuesday night -- said the ceremony helped make her Army wish even better than she had hoped.
"I like the Army (Soldiers) a little bit more now because they're really inspiring. I always knew that they were, but being here makes me see they are even more inspiring than I imagined. "