MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — At only 5 years old, Jorge Solis has dreamed of becoming a Marine for more than half his life.
Jorge, who suffers from retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer, got the chance to live his dream when the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Orange County and the Inland Empire partnered with Camp Pendleton to conduct a hands-on tour for Jorge and his family, Aug. 10.
Dressed in a tan Marine Corps camouflage uniform complete with cover, backpack, tan boots and a blue button identifying him as a Make-A-Wish child, Jorge looked the part when he arrived at the main gate in a white limousine with his parents and three brothers, who all wore Marine Corps t-shirts.
“This is a dream come true for Jorge, and we’re so glad to be here,” said Carmen Reyes, Jorge’s mother. “He’s loved the military since he was 2 years old- playing soldiers, yelling ‘move out, move out’ at his brothers, watching all the Rambo movies- it’s just in his blood.”
Jorge’s family was accompanied by several representatives from the Orange County and Inland Empire Make-A-Wish offices, including chief executive officer Stephanie McCormick, Jorge’s wish coordinator Michelle Cuellar, and chairman of the board Michael Rapacz.
Jorge’s first stop was the South Mesa Club, where he was greeted by Brig. Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations-West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Sgt. Maj. Derrick Christovale, Marine Corps Installations-West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton sergeant major.
During the meeting, Coglianese and Christovale presented Jorge with a duffel bag of Marine Corps goodies, promoted him to general, and taught him how to march and salute.
“I only have one order for you Jorge,” said Coglianese, saluting the new young general as the meeting ended. “Have a good time.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jorge, saluting.
Throughout the day, Jorge and his family participated in various activities across the base: riding amphibious assault vehicles, shooting rifles and pistols at the Individual Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, learning a boxing lesson from instructors at the new Marine Corps Martial Arts Program dojo, eating lunch with Coglianese at the 24 Area chow hall, flying the helicopter simulator on Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, controlling an explosive ordinance disposal robot at the EOD Museum, taking photos in vintage military vehicles at the Mechanized Museum and watching a demo and petting the dogs at the K-9 kennels.
At every location he was saluted and presented coins, badges and other gifts from the Marines.
Seeing Jorge’s wish granted touched not only the family, but the Marines he came into contact with throughout the day as well.
While waiting in line at the chow hall for a cheeseburger, he was approached by a Marine who offered him a handshake and his boot bands so he could blouse his boots.
“He’s just a brave little guy, full of life and energy,” said Sgt. Daniel Mullis, a formal marksmanship training course instructor at the ISMT. “We really enjoyed having him here with us today.”
At the end of the day, Jorge settled back into the limo with his family for the ride home, arms full of coins, stickers and t-shirts, an ear-to-ear smile still plastered across his face.
“I’ve had a lot of fun today,” said Jorge. “I like playing Marines with my brothers, and we liked all the things we got to do.”
In the end, it is that smile that lets everyone know the mission was accomplished, said McCormick.
“Never underestimate the smile of a wish child,” said McCormick. That’s what it is all about. Jorge will remember this day for the rest of his life, and his smile today has transformed all our lives.”