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Monday, March 17, 2008

9-year-old's dream of being a soldier comes true, and no, it's not a weird dream.

Nine-year-old Ethan Coleman has one dream.

He doesn't care about going to Disney World. He doesn't want a big-screen TV. He doesn't want to meet anyone famous. He doesn't want to meet football players and he doesn't want to go to Hawaii.

See, Ethan is a sick little boy. He has focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease that means he'll be on medications for the rest of his life, including have to take six teaspoons of fish liver oil a day, and may one day need a kidney transplant. And the Make-A-Wish Foundation, that wonderful organization that grants wishes to sick children, wanted to grant him a wish.

They offered him all of the above things. To each he said no. Ethan had only one wish, one dream which unfortunately cannot come true: to be an Army soldier. He wouldn't budge, so the Army and the Make-A-Wish Foundation made his wish come true, and Ethan got to be a soldier for a day:
Debbie Coleman cannot say why, exactly, her son, Ethan, decided he wanted to be a soldier.

Correction: an Army soldier.

She knows only that it began as one might suspect: with video games and toy soldiers. I picture here the little plastic men my brother and I played with, the poor fellows who flew helmeted head over firmly planted feet through the air, only to die by firecracker.

But what for Ethan began at 7 years old with toy soldiers led to camouflage- style clothing and sheets, to voracious reading of all things Army and computer printouts of vehicles, which he learned to identify.

And this dream, unlike his pro football player fantasy, did not pass.


They cannot take away his kidney disease, which is Ethan's first desire. But what about a vacation trip, a chance to meet someone famous, a big-screen TV?

We are, however, talking of one 9-year-old and his very particular wish:

He would like an Army base to relocate into his backyard.

Not gonna happen, mom says.

Maybe you could meet the Kansas City Chiefs, she counters.

"But Army, Army, Army," Debbie tells me. "It all kept coming back to the Army, and you know as much about why as I do. We have no military in our family."

There's Disney World, the Make-A- Wish lady says. Half the Make-a-Wish kids choose Disney World. Or Hawaii.

Look, his mom says, I will even fly on a plane if you want to go to Disney World. And mom is terrified of flying.

Not even Mickey Mouse sways him.

The Army pulled out all the stops on this one. Maj. Cort Hunt, commander of the local Military Entrance Processing Station, put the offer out to Make-A- Wish late last year, not sure anyone would take it. Hunt has arranged for Ethan to go through the same drill as any other recruit today. They plan to test him and his buddy, Jake Smith, fingerprint them, hand them uniforms and swear them in.

And so this is how Ethan Moyer, a fourth-grader from Emporia, Kan., finds himself in Denver Sunday night, in a fancy conference room with an Army recruiter and glass pitchers of ice water and a bunch of people hanging on to his every word because no Make- A-Wish kid picks being a soldier.

We forget what it is like to be 9 years old and building cities out of cardboard boxes and positioning soldiers as lookouts in a battle in which there are no countries and no politicians, where nothing is permanent and the only truth is that there will always be good guys and bad.

So, Ethan does what you'd expect a 9-year-old with everyone looking at him to do:


His "recruiter," Sgt. 1st Class Nancy Alessandri, manages to get out of him that he likes to play Army video games and play basketball and that he wouldn't mind an Army job that would let him be a bomber on a tank.

"I'm told you like Special Forces," she says. "What do you like?"

"That you get to sneak up on people."

Of course.

During a break, I take him out into the hall and we sit on the floor and he tells me how he sets up his cardboard cities and his tanks and we talk about how far soldiers can fly and how many men a tank can take out. Then I tell him they might ask him to do push-ups today and ask him if he's ready.

Push-ups, smush-ups.

"I do push-ups every morning," Ethan says. "I can do 15. And I can do 20 sit-ups."

He drops in a plank and pulls off a stunner of a push-up. Then he sits backs on his knees and grins, a 9-year-old boy on the edge of a dream.

He wanted an Army base in his backyard so he could be a soldier all the time.

This story is inspiring and heavy on the "Awww!" factor. But one thing bothered me.

Why is a nine-year-old boy's dream of being a soldier so perplexing to everyone in this story? Have little boys finally become so feminized -- the dream of the Gloria Steinems and Catherine McKinnon's of the world -- that dreaming of being a soldier is weird? His mom says she has "no idea" where he got it from because there's "no military" in their family.

What, dreaming of being a soldier and fighting for your country is only normal if there was a dad or an uncle or a big brother who was a soldier? And I don't understand why they seemingly wanted to talk him out of being an Army soldier for a day. What dream is there that is more admirable than that? The values that are intrinsic to being a soldier are the ones you'd think parents would be falling all over each other to instill into their sons -- courage, honor, integrity, teamwork, strength, love of country.

Boys by their very nature want to be soldiers, cops, firemen. Boys don't play Mickey and Minnie Mouse in their backyards, they play G.I. Joe, Cops and Robbers, games that involve goods guys vs. bad guys. It's not weird or unusual for any little boy to dream of being a soldier, even if there's no military in their family. And it's a great dream for them to have, one to be encouraged.

Our military attracts the best and brightest among us, which is probably why Ethan was so drawn to it, and it's great that the Make-A-Wish Foundation was able to partner with the Army to give Ethan his wish of being a soldier for a day.

Hat Tip: Blackfive


Christopher said...

I believe that major stores have stopped selling toy guns, army gear an GI JOES are basically high tech future soliders where they don't really fight anymore, but police the world or some such nonsense.

Army toys have been turned 'politically correct' and aren't inspiring new generations to fight for their ideas.

And Yes, boys are being influenced to buy into the Disney World, Pokemon cuddly world of make believe talking animals with human personalities, and dancing men in tights. Disney World is not a place I would take a child of mine.

RightGirl said...

Cassie, that was awesome. That's for picking this up - I've sent it out to all my Army friends. One more thing they can be so proud of.