News: Wyoming Guard helps honor honorary Soldier
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – At the age of 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 hoard, and helped ensure 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, sporting 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 which causes curvature of the spine.
She sought the help of the Wyoming National Guard to help her son live his dream of becoming a Soldier. The Morales family was paired with the state’s training site, the Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center; and the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment, an active duty unit based at Fort Sill, Okla., training in Wyoming.
“He was up at about 5 o’clock this morning and ready to go. Mommy wasn’t ready to go yet, but he was ready to go,” she said of his eagerness to become an honorary Soldier in the Wyoming Army National Guard. “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.”
“There is good in the world, there is a lot of good in the world,” said Col. Harold Walker, the base operations manager for Camp Guernsey. Walker said this visit may have a primary focus of helping a young man, but the secondary effects are 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. It is really a feel good thing for all of the crew and it’s a great opportunity for them,” he said.
Erick arrived at the Guernsey Army Airfield, from his home in Powell, Wyo., 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 personally command an M88 Recovery Vehicle – a tank-sized tow truck – and an M270A1 Multiple Launch Rocket System launcher.
While he measured in at just under 5 feet tall and is wheelchair bound, Erick and his smile had an immediate 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,” his mother 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 empathizes with the Morales family, noting he’s 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 face 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 Bridge Port, Conn., almost never broke his own smile as he helped hold Erick in place. Maria Morales, never broke her son’s grip, as they held hands through the special ride-along.
Of course, at Soldier just isn’t a Soldier without firing the Army’s arsenal of small arms. The camp’s simulation center afforded Erick with a chance to engage computer targets, using military rifles and machine guns.
Add in simulated explosions and "Pvt." Morales became a man of few words. 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.”