Make-A-Wish Foundation and Army Rangers do good!


Make-A-Wish Foundation and Army Rangers Make Severely Ill Teen's Military Dreams come true.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. Feb 26, 2007 (AP)— Weakened by a lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis, 14-year-old Riley Woina dreamed of being strong like the heroes he'd seen in war movies like "Black Hawk Down."

He wanted to parachute, fire rounds, wear a uniform. He wasn't scared of some of the most grueling training the Army has to offer.

So when he was offered the opportunity through the Make-A-Wish foundation to realize his dream, he jumped at the chance. Recently, the Plymouth, Conn., teen got to spend a week watching the U.S. Army's 6th Ranger Training Battalion train in Florida and even try many of the tasks himself.

"You always want what you cannot have and he'll never be able to join the Army because of his cystic fibrosis, so of course he wants that more than anyone else would. He would join the Army today if he could," said his mother, Susan Woina.

Riley is the first child to ask Make-A-Wish to visit a Ranger camp, said Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano, spokesman for the 6th Ranger Battalion. It was an unusual choice the foundation often grants wishes for Walt Disney World trips or shopping sprees.

"I knew I probably wouldn't be able to do anything like this again. They do everything down here, the swamp training, everything," Riley said, while eating with his new Ranger buddies in the chow hall at Camp James E. Rudder.

The camp is where Rangers spend 18 grueling days at the end of their 62-day training. Rangers go through realistic combat scenarios and are typically exhausted when they arrive, said Cordovano. But, "you really get to see what you are made of and if you have what it takes to be a combat leader," he said.

During the week, the 80-pound teen got to ride in a helicopter, traverse the swamps with Rangers in an inflatable Zodiac boat and witness a 64-paratrooper night jump from inside a C-130. He even got personalized fatigues, complete with his own combat boots and dog tags.

He also was presented with his own flight suit, a "U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment" patch, and his pilot's wings from an 82nd Airborne flight crew. Rangers also helped him to radio his mom from the helicopter while hovering above the beach.

"Mom, this is Riley, this is awesome," he said.

"Riley, I'm glad you're having a good time," she said.

The Rangers showed Riley how to deploy a parachute and a reserve parachute. As his parents and older brother, Ryan, laughed at Riley's enthusiasm, Master Sgts. Jose Morengo and Alexander Barnett rolled on the ground, jumped off benches and unfurled the parachutes.

He got to practice shooting blank M4 rounds and help clear a training room using grenade simulators.

Even a black eye, which he received as Morengo pulled the rip cord grip on a reserve parachute strapped around Riley's waist, didn't keep Riley from smiling. Morengo gave Riley the rip cord grip as a souvenir, explaining that it was the ultimate trophy of surviving a harrowing experience.

Riley's cystic fibrosis causes a buildup of a thick mucus that makes breathing difficult and inhibits absorption of nutrients, stunting growth. Riley takes nutritional supplements, respiratory medications, uses an inhaler and sleeps with a special vest that helps to shake up and clear out the mucus in his lungs while he sleeps.

But the Rangers who met him said that he's got the fortitude it takes to be a Ranger. Later this month, he'll get to go to Fort Benning, Ga.,with the successful students for graduation ceremonies.

"He's got nothing to prove to us, he's tough enough," Morengo said.

The experience didn't make Riley fear the grueling physical punishment Rangers experience at Camp Rudder, either and he wasn't sympathetic.

"It's a way of life for them, they are the ones that signed up for it so it's their fault," he said, as the Rangers around him laughed.

BTW: I had a female child die from CF at age 11 years. RIP Patty.

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