MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- With open arms, 2nd Marine Division welcomed the newest, youngest Marine aboard the base Dec. 12.
Representatives from Marine Corps Community Services and 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment were among the first faces six-year-old Brandon Rasnick upon arriving here.
Brandon, a boy afflicted with the genetic lung disease cystic fibrosis, and his family flew in from Lehigh Acres, Fla. on a trip sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation to grant his wish: to train, eat and live like a United States Marine.
Brandon’s father, Joseph; mother, Deanne; and half-sister, Marissa, first accompanied him to the Main Exchange Annex, where he received a set of Marine digital utilities, suede combat boots, and sergeant chevrons.
Now a fully-fledged “devil pup,” Brandon and his family were next welcomed aboard by Lt. Col. Brad Vickers, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment’s commander.
“This was a great opportunity for us, and we were all very excited to support Brandon’s wish coming true,” said Vickers, whose battalion will be providing escort for Brandon as he tours several training grounds on base. “This was something any unit in the 2nd Marine Division could have done well, but we were fortunate enough to be chosen.”
In the evening, Brandon next dined with a squad of Marines from 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. Inside a local mess hall, several personnel showered him with gifts, including military mementos, uniform items and a commemorative Marine Corps ring.
The Marines parted with objects that were special to them because they were impressed with Brandon’s motivated attitude and knowledge over the military services, said Sgt. Steven Dattilo.
“As a former recruiter, it’s really amazing for me to see someone who wants to be a Marine from that early on,” he continued. “You have to give it up for a kid with that much desire. I feel like we (Marine Corps) is being cheated out of a good Marine.”
As Brandon walked out of the mess hall, he thumbed the ring that now hung from a golden chain around his neck.
“I feel like a Marine already,” he stated. “I’ll bet it’s really fun being a Marine.”
After a night spent aboard the base’s Bachelor Officer’s Quarters, Brandon and his family were ready to see more of what Marine life was about. Their day started early with a visit to 2nd Marine Regiment’s Indoor Simulation Marksmanship Trainer, where Brandon got the chance to fire an arsenal of automatic weapons at tanks and troops on a video screen.
Following that, the young sergeant received a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) demonstration nearby. There, he observed Marines showcase hand-to-hand combat and how they would grapple with the enemy in close-quarters combat. Afterward, Brandon himself locked a few warriors into headlocks, holds and “arm bar” maneuvers.
After lunch, the Marine of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment performed squad fire and maneuver tactics before the amazed Brandon. As he watched from atop a tower, the Marines rushed and fired at a simulated enemy position.
Later on, these Marines helped Brandon into a small flak jacket so he too could get some trigger time behind the machineguns he had marveled about.
Brandon’s second day here ended with a visit with Lt. Gen. James Amos, II Marine Expeditionary Force’s commander. The top-ranking general here presented the young sergeant a coin, a desert digital camouflaged pattern backpack, and a certificate officially making Brandon a Marine.
Brandon’s last full day of adventuring would be spent inside what many a little boy dreams of driving: a tank.
Sergeant Ricardo Fernandez Jr. and several others with 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, instructed Brandon on the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and took him on the ride of his life.
Brandon got the opportunity to look around the inside and outside of the tank, and learned about where the rounds go to fire the main gun. He was able to look through the sights of the mounted guns, as well as learning the basic functions of the tank.
“It was great doing something like that for him,” said Fernandez, a San Antonio native. “For us, riding in a tank is not that big of a deal, but seeing the excitement and amazement in his eyes made me realize how important and special it is to some people.”
“He was a little cold, but he was so excited to be riding in a tank,” he continued. “When we were crossing the road, he said to me, ‘All clear tank commander!’ I could tell he was having an awesome time.”
Hours later, Brandon observed the Marines of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion handle explosives to detonate several objects at a nearby range, followed by a live fire mortar shoot conducted by 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
Countless souvenirs and three day’s worth of events later, Brandon’s family left for home Dec. 15, having felt the Marines here had granted their little boy’s wish.
“He said to me that he wished it was Tuesday (Dec. 12) again, so he could do it all over again,” said 1st Lt. Leslie Morrison, the action officer and coordinator for this Make-A-Wish function. “The whole family told me they enjoyed it, and that they never expected this event to be so successful. It was a pleasure and an honor for us to make a little boy’s wish come true.”