Alyssa flexes her boots against the wood panels and grasps the rope tighter. Forty feet separate her and the ground. The only thing between is a rope and open air. One deep breath. She pushes off and begins to descend.
This is the top of Victory Tower at Fort Jackson and the pinnacle of Alyssa’s lifelong wish to become a soldier in the U.S. Army. She knows she has to make it down the rope to complete basic training. Cystic fibrosis won’t stop her. And this obstacle won’t stop her.
The Desire to Serve
Alyssa was 7 years old when her uncle joined the Army. She admired the uniform, the badges, the courage. She wanted to be like him.
But in 2009, Alyssa was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and her dream suddenly became much more distant. Because of the Department of Defense’s medical restrictions, Alyssa’s condition made her ineligible to join the Army.
Alyssa was devastated. So when she was offered a wish, she knew she had to choose something that would be impossible without help from Make-A-Wish, a wish that ran deep: to serve in the Army.
Thirteen months after making her wish, Alyssa travelled to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for a week of basic training. She took the Oath of Enlistment and was issued a uniform; and with that, Alyssa was officially an enlisted soldier in training. The next day started at 5:30 a.m. Along with the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, she did everything from mastering the obstacle course to practicing her marksmanship at the simulated rifle range.
Alyssa and her older sister, Chessa, who has plans of her own to join the Army, completed the training together. And though the drills challenged her, they gave her a true taste of life in the Army. The most daunting task? Gazing down from the top of Victory Tower. It only took a moment for Alyssa to gather her courage and repel down the 40-foot vertical drop … but in her words, “I just did it.”
After several days of training, Alyssa proved herself a true soldier. She stood with 1,000 fellow soldiers and graduated, fulfilling her wish.
The Heart of a Soldier
Once Alyssa’s boots touched the ground at the base of Victory Tower, she knew that she could surmount any obstacle – even her cystic fibrosis.
“When I saw those two drill sergeants helping her harness what she had inside, I had every confidence in the world she’d complete everything,” Col. Drew Meyerowich told WSPA.com. “It’s not about being physically fit; it’s having the heart to be a soldier.”
As a basic training graduate and cystic fibrosis survivor, Alyssa has truly become the hero she dreamed to be. And her admiration for the men and women who serve in the military has grown since living her ultimate wish. “They’re really inspiring. I always knew that they were, but being here makes me see they are even more inspiring than I imagined,” Alyssa said.