What began as a quest for knowledge in the Pacific became a dream come true for 13-year-old Jared Kula, who got a taste of life in the Marines thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Looking back on his mid-May experience, Saegertown’s Kula said he was shocked to be flown to Hawaii, along with his family, for tours of Pearl Harbor, island recreation and a day with some of the nation’s finest, including service members of Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“I felt like the king of the world,” Kula said of his time off the western coast. “It was awesome. I didn’t want to leave.”
Diagnosed in 2012 with ulcerative colitis, an incurable digestive condition, Kula said he was eventually enrolled with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The organization’s Greater Pennsylvania, Virginia and Hawaii chapters coordinated to make his dream come true.
His original wish was to scope out the USS Arizona Memorial, which held the name of a fallen soldier he believed might be a relative of his, sharing the same last name.
“I mentioned it to the local Make-A-Wish (chapter) and they all just took the idea and ran with it,” said Kula’s mother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Lori Scott. “They went above anything I thought was possible.”
Kula recalled the jaw-dropping moment when he saw Marines marching toward his destination as he landed in Hawaii. He professed to enjoying just about every aspect of the trip, from the cross-country flight to surf lessons and a brief vacation on the shores.
“Marine Corps Day was the best day of all,” he said, emphasizing every detail of his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “We went for a run and got to do cadences. It was actually kind of fun.”
Supervised by service members and Marine officers, Kula got the chance to survey and even operate several pieces of machinery, from a Humvee turret to a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle and even a howitzer artillery piece, which he proudly stated “could shoot a fly off a windshield at (roughly) 23 yards.”
Kula was also given access to other touch-safe military-grade weaponry, including machine guns and sniper rifles. His joy was apparent when he recalled holding a bazooka for the first time and trying out combat simulators.
“I felt powerful,” he laughed. “It was awesome; there’s no other way to explain it.”
He was treated to a mess hall meal and other tours and demonstrations in addition to receiving medals and commendations from the officers who accompanied him throughout the day, including a Fleet Marine Force Warfare insignia and a Parachutist Badge, often called Jump Wings.
His medals are pinned to his camo fatigues, personalized to bear his last name.
“It was absolutely amazing; Make-A-Wish did a really great job,” Scott said. “It was more than I could wish for him.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.