FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Aug. 13, 2015) — It was more than 10 years ago when 9-year-old Evan Schneider was granted his wish as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation to become an Army Ranger. Schneider was diagnosed with a heart defect before birth and had a heart transplant when he was just four weeks old.
After years of medications and the risk of his body rejecting the transplanted heart, Schneider qualified to fulfill his life-long wish through the non-profit organization. On Nov. 21, 2004, a limousine escorted Schneider and members of his family to the airport where they were then flown to Fort Benning, Georgia - home of the U.S. Army's Ranger Training Brigade.
The commander of the regiment, Col. K.K. Chinn met Schneider, outfitted him with a specially-sized uniform, then escorted him on a five-day tour with the elite unit. Schneider participated in various activities including wearing night-vision goggles, riding in a tank, repelling down a 30-foot wall and learning hand-to-hand combat techniques. He even enjoyed a Thanksgiving Day feast with the Rangers before flying back to California with his family.
After experiencing life as a Ranger, Schneider always hoped he would someday be healthy enough to become a part of the Army Family and fulfill a lifelong dream.
Fast forward to today, the previous little 9-year-old with a life-threatening medical condition is now a tall, private first class, who is a citizen-Soldier with the California State Military Reserve, or CSMR. The unit is an all-volunteer service whose mission is to support California National Guard service members during times of state emergencies.
And the former commander of the Ranger Training Brigade now wears two stars and is the commanding general of U.S. Army South on Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Remarkably Schneider and Chinn have stayed in touch throughout the years. Schneider recently mentioned to Chinn that he and his brother would be in Texas on vacation and Chinn invited them to visit. Schneider was thrilled to visit his Ranger friend again.
"Hanging out with the general today was really great. I got to see a lot of behind the scenes work with the wounded warriors, the inner workings of the base and a day in the life of a general," said 19-year-old Schneider. "I really appreciate the general taking time out of his day, because I know he is pretty busy."
Just as in 2004, Chinn was glad to see Schneider and to show him around his command and the post. Chinn said he always felt a connection to Schneider through the years.
"I stayed in touch with his mom over the years and one day he e-mailed me and asked if I remembered him. I told him absolutely," Chinn said. "I was really excited and inspired when he said he wanted to come and see me again. I told him to come on down to San Antonio."
During Schneider's visit, he and his brother, Austin, toured U.S. Army South headquarters; the Quadrangle, the oldest building on post - built in 1876; the Fort Sam Houston Museum; the Center for the Intrepid, a state-of-the-art medical facility; the Department of Combat Medic Training and the Warrior and Family Support Center, an organization dedicated to providing wounded warriors and their Families support during their recovery.
"Today inspired me," said Schneider, a native of Murrieta, California. "My mentor for wanting to stay connected to the Army is Maj. Gen. Chinn and to see all of the support and training outlets available to Soldiers reaffirms my choices."
The commanding general was glad to see Schneider fulfilling his dream as a member of the CSMR.
"I'm really proud to see how he has grown. The last time I saw him was when he was nine," Chinn said. "Evan is a remarkable human being. He is the kind of son that personifies the best of America, I am extremely proud of him."
Schneider said he never wanted to do anything else but be a part of the Army, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Ranger Training Brigade made his dream come true as a young boy. With great perseverance, he continues to fulfill his dream as a member of CSMR.
"Working with the California State Military Reserve is great, because we are all volunteers and we all have the same reasons for serving," Schneider said.
Not only is Schneider proud of the journey he's made, but his brother, Austin, who accompanied him to Fort Benning years ago and traveled with him to San Antonio, is also proud of his brother.
"Back then it was a dream, but now it is a reality," said Austin, 24. "It is amazing to me. Although, because of health limitations, he can't be in the Army, he still gets to be a part of it. I loved watching him buy equipment the other day that he will actually get to use when he is back at the CSMR. The Make-A-Wish Foundation made his dream come true back then and today he is continuing to fulfill that dream."
Founded in 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation's mission is to grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Its goal is to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Today, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has grown to granting a wish, on average, every 37 minutes. In 2014, it granted more than 14,200 wishes.
According to the Make-A-Wish Foundation mission statement, "a wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a life-threatening medical condition. This one belief guides us in everything we do at Make-A-Wish. It inspires us to grant wishes that change the lives of the kids we serve."
Schneider said the wish granted to him did change his life. But enjoying a week with the Rangers and spending a day with the general were only the first steps. He has more aspirations and hopes he can fulfill those wishes too.
"After I graduate from college, I want to be a police officer," said Schneider, currently a sophomore at California Baptist University. "I can now see the sky is the limit for my future."