“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that we were all asked when we were children.
If you’re anything like me, your answer to that question probably changed according to the news cycle, what your friends thought was cool, and perhaps even what you had for lunch. I remember cycling through astronaut, actor and FBI agent before settling on writing.
Six-year-old Alec J. Rubio has known his entire life that he wanted to be in the military.
But according to Military.com, in June 2018, he began to have problems with his vision.
His mother, Tereza Quesada, explained, “We noticed he had a lazy eye, and it scared me. He’d look over, and you would see it kind of lag. Usually, kids are born with it, but he wasn’t.”
Doctors couldn’t find a problem initially, but they certainly knew there was one.
Alec’s behavior began to change, and he started struggling in school. Finally, he received a brain scan.
The news hit a hammer: Alec had adrenoleukodystrophy, a genetic disorder.
The Mayo Clinic describes adrenoleukodystrophy as “a type of hereditary (genetic) condition that damages the membrane (myelin sheath) that insulates nerve cells in your brain… your body can’t break down very long-chain fatty acids (VLCFAs), causing saturated VLCFAs to build up in your brain, nervous system and adrenal gland.” It’s a particularly ugly illness when it strikes children.
Those suffering from childhood-onset adrenoleukodystrophy face progressive brain damage. Death usually occurs within five to 10 years.
“This is not something any dad should go through. It’s the worst fear of any parent,” Alec’s dad, Efrain Rubio, said.
“It’s hard, but I try to keep my faith high and spirit up for him. You take for granted everything that you’re so used to — even him being able to see, being able to talk, and being well coordinated.”
While there is no cure, there are treatments available to slow the process down. But even though Alec has lost most of his vision and is struggling with motor skills, he has still managed to hold on to his love of the Armed Forces. “Ever since he was little, Alec has always loved the military,” his mother said.
“As soon as he could walk, Alec would throw on whatever clothes he could find and go out to play like he was in the military. He still does even though it’s harder for him now.”
So Alec’s uncle, Warrant Officer Brandon Cain with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38, arranged something special for his nephew.
“Due to the nature of the disease and how aggressive it can be, my wife and I talked and we decided we were going to set something set up for him,” Cain said. “He’s always wanted to be in the military so we figured, ‘Why not get him in with the best?'”
He brought Alec to the base where members of his unit, the Marine Air Control Group 38, and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing gathered together in ceremonial rank and file.
As Alec was brought out of a military truck, Lt. Col. Koichi Takagi knelt before him, pressed a coin into his hand, and said, “Alec, this coin means that you are forever a member of Marine Wing Communication Squadron 38. You are the newest and bravest member of the unit, and we are glad you are here. Welcome to the Marine Corps!”
Rubio was able to command his first formation, lead his fellow Marines in a group training exercise and went on a tour of the facility and their vehicles.
Afterward, Rubio said his son couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. The little boy said, “I’m a Marine now, Dad, I’m really a Marine!”
“This brought hope and happiness to them,” Cain told the Marine Corps. “It shows how something as small as throwing a formation and getting the Marines together can mean to someone, especially someone who has looked up to us and idolized us for as long as Alec has.”
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