PUERTO PRINCESA CITY — U.S. Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (1MEB) based out of Camp Pendleton, California, took a moment from their busy schedules over the weekend to provide a Palaweño boy his first pair of shoes.
“Rusty,” a 14-yr. old boy, who lives near Camp General Artemio G. Ricarte, headquarters of the Western Command (WESCOM), has been seen hanging around the field where the 1st MEB established its camp for the duration of the Exercise Balikatan 2015 command post exercise (CPX).
The marines were immediately drawn to his charming personality despite suffering from a skeletal condition that makes it hard to stand straight and walk.
“He’s always smiling,” said Sgt. Cody Vetter, a Palmer, Alaska native and member of the 1MEB’s operations section. “He laughs at virtually anything.”
Rusty’s skeletal condition makes him different from the other local children, so, he says he has no friends and people usually ignore him. “But,” says Vetter, “he doesn’t let anything get him down.”
Pittsburgh native Capt. Stephanie Hebda, the 1MEB’s camp commandant, said, “His smile and joy are magnetic. He appreciates the simple things that we often take for granted.”
As the Marines get to know Rusty, they learned he has never owned a pair of shoes. His pair of flip flops are old and worn out, and his feet are covered in sores. They also learned his favorite sport is badminton.
To help Rusty bring an inspiring change in the way he appreciates life, the Marines chipped in and bought a brand new pair of flip flops, shoes, socks.
“Thank you, I’m very happy,” said Rusty, smiling widely as he held his first new blue pair proudly.
The Marines also spent the next few minutes teaching Rusty how to tie his laces because he said he does not know how.
They also bought badminton set for him, but they decided to keep it until he returns to the camp.
Rusty arrived back at the 1MEB campsite Sunday, sporting his new shoes, and challenging any Marines, who wanted to play a game of badminton.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Tommy Vigil, the 1MEB’s senior enlisted advisor and organizer of the collection, was very happy to present Rusty with the gift.
“I thought it would be something great to do,” said Vigil.
Vetter, on the other hand, summed up his thoughts of Rusty in one word, “Heartwarming.”
The U.S. Marines are in Palawan as part of the engineering capability action program (ENCAP) of the Exercise Balikatan 2015, constructing jointly and cooperatively four elementary and high schools in three barangays in Puerto Princesa.