Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
If heart were height, Brandon Hussey would be at least 7 feet tall.
Cruising around Del Norte High School in his motorized wheelchair with fluorescent green wheels, the 16-year-old sophomore is hard to miss – and even harder to keep up with. Between regular classes, Air Force JROTC duties and after-school Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons, Brandon might be the busiest man on campus.
“I’ve always been told from a young age I can do anything I set my mind to,” Hussey said at Del Norte last week just before wheeling off to Color Guard practice with three other JROTC cadets.
The Color Guard, which performs at the Knights’ varsity football and basketball games, presents the American and New Mexico flags during the singing of the national anthem. Brandon, one of two riflemen on the squad, executes precision movements with a non-firing replica of the vintage 1903 Springfield military rifle.
Decked out in his neatly pressed blue uniform, the cadet is clearly proud of the uniform and the staff sergeant stripes on his lapel.
“I’m definitely going to do JROTC all four years,” he said.
Brandon, the youngest of David and Cindy Hussey’s four children, was born with stunted legs and about half of a normal left arm.
“I’ve got what is pretty much a challenge-based life,” Hussey said.
“When I was a baby, the doctors never thought I’d make it for even a day. Here I am at 16, definitely proving those doctors wrong.”
Even as a toddler, it was obvious he wasn’t about to let his physical limitations to be, well, limitations.
While still in diapers, he flabbergasted his mother by dragging a tiny chair to the living room couch and climbing up on it.
“When he was 15 months old, I put him in a power wheelchair that someone had given us, just to let him move around in it,” his mother said. “He started using it right away.”
Like most people who meet her son, she’s at a loss to explain what drives him to excel at the many activities he pursues.
“I guess he was just born with it,” she said as she watched the teenager practice with his rifle.
Retired Air Force Col. Mark E. Andersen, commander of the JROTC program at Del Norte, said it didn’t surprise him when Brandon signed up for the program.
Brandon’s older brother, Andrew, was in JROTC for four years at Del Norte, the last of which was under Anderson’s command.
“As an eighth-grader, Brandon showed up here all summer – and he’s been working his butt off ever since,” Andersen said.
“He has a tremendous inner drive to be great, and he will be because of that,” he said.
“He’s the first guy in the unit that I’ve given two stripes to.”
JROTC – the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps – is a federal program designed to promote citizenship, service to country, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment in high school students. The rigorous program, offered as an elective class, stresses military discipline, and teaches military science and history.
Though many students continue the program through college ROTC and go on to military careers, it’s by no means a requirement.
“What we try to teach here is teamwork,” Andersen said. “We try to teach students to take care of each other before they take care of themselves. If they do that, they are successful.”
Articulate and unerringly polite, Brandon said his older brother influenced his decision to enroll in JROTC.
“It’s partially because of my brother. He was in JROTC all four years and … became the cadet commander, which is the highest (cadet) rank,” he said.
Aside from the camaraderie he finds with fellow cadets, which Brandon said is like an extended family, the program offers opportunities beyond regular high school activities – rifle training, for example.
“My freshman year, I went to shooting camp for the rifle team. That’s where I met a couple of the cadets that are in my flight,” Brandon said.
That camp, held at Volcano Vista High School, emphasized firearm safety, firing range protocol and marksmanship.
“Outside of JROTC, I probably would have never shot a rifle,” he said.
The program uses specialized air rifles on a 10-meter target range. Cadets are scored on hits using standing, kneeling and prone shooting positions. With an adaptive stand specially built for him, Brandon placed second in the camp’s shooting competition.
Giving it a shot
The rifle camp is typical of many of Brandon’s pursuits.
“Anything that’s out there, I’m going to give it a shot,” he said.
“If I could, I’d like to branch off into the military, but there are certain limitations that are keeping me from doing that,” he said with a wry smile.
There are no such limitations, apparently, in jiu-jitsu.
Intrigued by his father’s interest in martial arts, Brandon took up Brazilian jiu-jitsu six years ago. Besides being a martial art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a combat sport and a self-defense system that focuses on grappling and ground fighting to mitigate the advantages of an opponent’s size and strength. It emphasizes getting an opponent to the ground and forcing submission with joint-locks and choke holds.
Brandon, who has earned a blue belt in the discipline, said it’s ideal for him.
“I pretty much crush everybody,” in his class, he said dryly.
Like many high schoolers, Brandon has yet to settle on a possible career.
“I hope to get a military scholarship, then go to CNM (Central New Mexico Community College),” he said, adding that he’s considering becoming a motivational speaker.
“I believe the reason I was put on this earth is to advocate for, and inform people that people like me can do whatever they feel, and more,” he said.
He quickly rejects labels like handicapped, challenged or disabled.
“I think people need to refer to me as an equal,” he said. “Anything they can do, I can do.”
Unlike his mother and commander who are at a loss to explain his extraordinary drive, Brandon says simply, “It’s in my heart.”
“My only drive is to show people what people like me can do.”