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Cystic fibrosis patient realizes dream of being Army Ranger

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, fires a M-249 at the 6th Ranger Training Battalion here Feb. 20. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, fires a M-249 at the 6th Ranger Training Battalion here Feb. 20. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- U.S. Army Spc. Kipper Connell, 6th Ranger Training Battalion armorer, help Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, load a M-249 Feb 20. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- U.S. Army Spc. Kipper Connell, 6th Ranger Training Battalion armorer, help Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, load a M-249 Feb 20. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, runs through the rain with an air crew member of the 5th Aviation Battalion, Air Ambulance Detachment, Ft. Polk, La., to board a UH-1V Huey helicopter Feb. 21. Riley diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, runs through the rain with an air crew member of the 5th Aviation Battalion, Air Ambulance Detachment, Ft. Polk, La., to board a UH-1V Huey helicopter Feb. 21. Riley diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, prepares for take-off in a UH-1V Huey air ambualnce from the 5th Aviation Battalion from Ft. Polk, La., here Feb. 21. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, prepares for take-off in a UH-1V Huey air ambualnce from the 5th Aviation Battalion from Ft. Polk, La., here Feb. 21. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (U.S Army photo by Army Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Col. Russ Handy, 33d Fighter Wing Commander, presents his commander?s coin to Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Col. Russ Handy, 33d Fighter Wing Commander, presents his commander?s coin to Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut. Riley, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was granted a week with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion and Eglin Airmen through the Make-A-Wish Foundation Feb. 19-24. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Col. Russ Handy, 33d Fighter Wing Commander, explains the workings of the F-15C Eagle?s 20mm Gatling gun Feb. 26 to Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Riley spent Feb. 19-24 at Eglin Air Force Base with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Col. Russ Handy, 33d Fighter Wing Commander, explains the workings of the F-15C Eagle?s 20mm Gatling gun Feb. 26 to Riley Woina, 14, from Connecticut, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Riley spent Feb. 19-24 at Eglin Air Force Base with the 6th Ranger Training Battalion as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Franks)

CAMP RUDDER, Fla. -- While hovering over the Emerald Coast beaches in a Huey filled with U.S. Army Rangers, Riley radioed his mom. "Mom, this is Riley, this is awesome."

"Riley, I'm glad you're having a good time," she relied.

For Rangers, soldiering is a way of life, but for 14-year-old Riley Woina, who has cystic fibrosis, "rangering" is a dream come true.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation and the 6th Ranger Training Battalion, Ranger Training Brigade at Camp Rudder, made Woina's dream come true.

"I wanted to train with the Army Rangers because they are heroes and their motto is to 'leave no one behind,'" Woina said after completing a full day of training with the 6th RTB.

Susan Woina, Riley's mother, joked that her son could have taken his Plymouth, Conn., family to Walt Disney World or gone on a shopping spree through the Make-A-Wish Foundation instead of spending a week crawling in the mud with soldiers in the Florida Panhandle.

"You always want what you cannot have and he'll never be able to join the Army because of his cystic fibrosis, so of course he wants that more than anyone else would. He would join the Army today if he could," she said.

Dressed in a military flight suit with Army and Air Force insignia, Woina flew in a C-130 aircraft, observed an airborne jump, sat in an Air Force fighter jet and experienced a training flight in a UH-1V Huey provided by the U.S. Army Air Ambulance Detachment, 5th Aviation Battalion of Fort Polk, La.

Woina's Ranger experience also allowed him to negotiate a Zodiac boat along the Yellow River, cross a river on a one-rope bridge, conduct a swamp movement, participate in snake and rappelling demonstrations, and enjoy tours of Eglin Air Force Base and the Air Force Armament Museum.

Woina's skill and inner strength inspired the Rangers who had the opportunity to train him.

"When you've been in the Army for a long time, you forget what it feels like when you first join. I will never forget the look on Riley's face as he got off the helicopter, or when he conducted a rope-bridge crossing with the other Ranger students cheering him on," said Capt. Jeremiah Cordovano, 6th RTB.

Cystic fibrosis causes a buildup of a thick mucus that makes breathing difficult and inhibits absorption of nutrients, stunting growth. Riley takes nutritional supplements, respiratory medications, uses an inhaler and sleeps with a special vest that helps to shake up and clear out the mucus in his lungs while he sleeps.

The 6th RTB conducts the final phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School, whose primary mission is to train Rangers who are flexible and adaptive combat leaders.

"I can't believe the time and effort that you guys (6th Ranger Training Battalion) have put into this," the boy's father, Gary, told the Soldiers. "Riley will never forget this experience."
Ranger training lasts 62 days and Camp Rudder is the final phase.

"We provide the most realistic combat scenarios and they are the most decimated when they get to us," Cordovano said. "They are lacking sleep and food, you really get to see what you are made of and if you have what it takes to be a combat leader."

Riley will join the successful Ranger students at Fort Benning, Ga., for their graduation ceremonies on March 9, where he will get to ride in a tank and shoot live rounds.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Alexander Barnett, a 17-year veteran Ranger instructor who accompanied Riley at the camp, said the teen has the mental toughness to be a Ranger.
"He has the intestinal fortitude. Because of his medical condition, he's tough," Barnett said. "I was shocked he asked to do this. He's from Connecticut, he's a city boy. He could have asked to go the Super Bowl. I have a touchy moment every day with him."

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Jose Morengo agreed.

"He's got nothing to prove to us, he's tough enough." 

(Article courtesy of Paula Smith and Melissa Nelson)

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