CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines are the nation's 911 responders. They handle some of the harshest and worst situations you can think of, but they are not just tough. The Marines of 7th Engineer Support Battalion proved that they also have a soft side when they made a special boy's wish of becoming a Marine come true.
Nathan Aldaco was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome at a young age. Since the discovery of this rare congenital heart defect in which the left heart is severely underdeveloped, he has received various surgeries, and has not only learned to survive with this disease but also thrive with the support of his family.
Earlier in the year, Nathan and his family were contacted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and given the opportunity for the young boy to give the foundation a list of things he would like to do. Due to the content on that list, the request was forwarded to the Marines of 1st Marine Logistics Group.
Among the items on the list from the young boy's imagination were simply to watch Marines train, ride in large military vehicles, train with Marines, be a part of a medal ceremony, and have a full camouflage uniform; wishes the leaders of 7th ESB knew they wanted to fulfill.
"It's a true honor to do this for Nathan," said 1st Lt. Ernesto Gaudio, 2nd platoon commander, Bravo Company, 7th ESB, 1st MLG. "We wanted to make him feel like he was a part of the Marine family. We are in service to the United States of America and Nathan is a citizen of the United States. We were just making his wish come true."
With the planning and coordination complete, Nathan would have his day in the life of a Marine. Upon changing into his very own combat uniform, a day began that no one would easily forget.
"It's been amazing," said Nathan's mother, Rebecca Aldaco. "It was more than what I expected to do. He will cherish this forever. I think the whole family is having a good time and we are all enjoying it."
His mother, father, brothers and sister dressed in flak jackets and Kevlar helmets to prepare for an afternoon with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines. Nathan accompanied the team to the EOD compound where they walked him through the various explosive devices they've disarmed. Soon after, Nathan mounted up in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to go through a demolition range where the team demonstrated the capabilities of their EOD robots and detonated TNT, C4, dynamite and blasting caps.
"The bombs were cool," said Nathan. "I like working with the robots. It was fun controlling them and picking stuff up with them."
During his visit with the EOD team, Nathan and his family shared a special lunch eating meals ready to eat, or MREs, that is the typical food provided to Marines in the field. When asked if he liked the food he just laughed and said it wasn't too terrible.
The time came to let Nathan ride in some of the biggest vehicles found within MLG; but before he started driving he was presented with his very own hard hat that the Marines all signed. He controlled the D7 dozer and the excavatorin which he dug a pit, built a berm, and broke several large tree trunks.
"He can take any of our jobs with the way he is driving our trucks," voiced several of the heavy equipment operators with 7th ESB.
After prying Nathan from the excavator, the young boy had an opportunity to learn about the various weapons on which these Marines train.
While the day was nearly complete, there was still another wish that needed to be checked off of the young boy's list; to be a part of an award ceremony.
Nathan was beaming as he was awarded the Master EOD badge by Col. Jaime O. Collazo, the 1st MLG chief of staff. The Master EOD badge is issued after 7–15 years of service in a senior supervisory position in the community, and is the highest badge an EOD Marine can receive.
Emotions were high as Nathan saluted the colonel before marching off. Several Marines had tears in their eyes as they congratulated the new honorary Marine.
"It was a great opportunity," said Gaudio. "First of all it was good for Nathan. I hope it was also good for the Marines. I think it touched a lot our hearts. I will certainly never forget today or Nathan and his family. I got emotional at the end but, hey, we are human beings. We are Marines but we are human."
When all was said and done, Nathan's mother had a message for Nathan.
"I want Nathan to know that we love him and that we are here for him. We support him and I'm thankful to God for this experience as a family and that we are here as a family together to enjoy this time with him. I am just so grateful to all the Marines that did this for us."