MESQUITE — A stranger probably sees the wheelchair first. But anyone who meets John Cohen quickly sees past that conveyance.
"What he lacks in physical ability, he compensates using his mind and anything else he can use," said Sgt. Greg Tubbs, the Junior ROTC instructor at Horn High School in Mesquite ISD.
Cohen is the first disabled member of the JROTC.
He was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder. At 18, he has the muscle strength of a six month old child.
But he has the heart of a soldier.
"People with disabilities and veterans who can still mentally serve, should serve — not just as civilians, but as real soldiers," he said.
On spring break, Cohen took that proposal as far as he could take it during a 10 minute face-to-face meeting with the Commander-in-Chief.
"The door opened, and there he was," Cohen recalled. "He talked to us for a minute, and then we walked into the Oval Office."
Cohen's Make-A-Wish request took more than two years to fulfill, but finally he met President Obama in the White House.
"It started out with, 'I'm very proud of you.' I was like, 'Aww, thanks,'" Cohen said.
The meeting happened not because Cohen thought it would be cool to meet the Commander-in-Chief; he did it to share his vision.
Cohen would like the Pentagon to establish a corps for people with disabilities who want to serve their country. He created a PowerPoint presentation, printed off copies, and took it to the White House.
A secretary gave President Obama a copy of the proposal, and Cohen said it was obvious the president had read it before their meeting.
"I showed up in the Oval Office and it was on his desk," Cohen said proudly. "He asked me what I wanted to do in the military if I could serve, and I told him. He said he liked the idea, and would look into it."
Cohen acts as the public affairs officer for Horn's JROTC, but he thinks in the future there could be more potential for people with disabilities to serve.
"As technology gets bigger and bigger, we'll be in a cyber war... not a combat war," he said.
His instructor agreed.
"One day there will be something you can think about and make it move. And at that time, John could be in it," Tubbs said.
The president listened, and Cohen said he seemed to like what he heard.
After their meeting, Cohen got to watch Mr. Obama walk to Marine One to begin a trip to New York.
"My plan is to do more and more interviews, and hopefully he'll see them and know that I'm really serious about this," Cohen said.
He's graduating in just a few weeks, and is applying to Stephen F. Austin for college.
As for being in the White House and inside the Oval Office? It was "awe-inspiring," he said.
"Just him having the heart and dedication to want to serve — when so many out there don't want to — is inspirational," Tubbs said. "That's his nature in a whole."