Fort Jackson helps ill 7-year-old boy become Soldier for day
December 12, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Dec. 12, 2013) -- Richard Culliver, a 7-year-old boy battling an inoperable brain tumor, took his place on Hilton Field with the rest of the Army's new Soldiers during last week's regular graduation ceremony.
By anyone's definition, Richard's time at Fort Jackson was hectic. He arrived Wednesday with his family, anticipating a superficial tour of the installation. After having lunch with drill sergeants, he quickly found himself going through the paces of the kinds of Basic Combat Training exercises most likely to appeal to boys.
"They asked him what he wanted to do," said his mother, Stephanie McMillan. "He wanted to crawl in the mud. He mentioned it a couple of times, and the drill sergeants were like, 'Let's go!'"
Richard was diagnosed in October, 2012, with an inoperable brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. The tumor is at the base of his brain stem and has had a catastrophic impact on Richard's motor skills.
"Children usually have about 12 months, if they're doing well," his mother said. "This tumor will inhibit his ability to breathe, eat, drink ... all of his motor skills. He hasn't walked in a year."
Still, his impairment didn't keep him from getting the most from his experience at Fort Jackson.
"He crawled through (the mud) once and said he wanted to do it again," McMillan said. "He did it twice, and it was awesome."
Richard took part in physical training with other Soldiers, visited the top of Victory Tower, and fired the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, an automated simulator that provides realistic weapons qualification for Soldiers. He also visited McEntire Joint National Guard Base, where he met with pilots and spent some time on a flight simulator.
"Richard's always loved servicemen and women: The military, the fire department, the police ... I think it has something to do with how he loves people who want to help and do better for other people," McMillan said. "This was just a natural thing from him to want to do."
As is the case with most new Soldiers, Richard's experience on post ended with a graduation. He took his place alongside the ceremony's honor graduates, as well as a retiring sergeant major.
"Today, I have the beginning of some new careers, the end of an old career and a brand new PFC in the Army, and a number of drill sergeants who are in their last cycle,"
Lt. Col. J.C. Glick, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment commander, noted during his commencement speech last week. Richard was met with thunderous applause as Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson's commanding general, promoted the child to the rank of private first class.
"I thought we were coming for a little tour, to get a little look behind the scenes," McMillan said. "I had no idea it was going to be as big as it was. Experiencing it in person was just ... you can't put it into words. He's not stopped talking about it. He's been ordering me around since he spent time with the drill sergeants. It was everything to him. It was magical."
In September, an MRI showed Richard's tumor had decreased "significantly" in size during 2013, she said. Her son is taking part in both physical and speech therapy, and his mobility has improved in recent months.
"Right now, we're a little more relaxed," she said. "A year ago, I didn't think we'd be here today. A year ago, I would have thought he'd already have gone to heaven. The fact that it shrunk, and we saw shrinkage 10 months after radiation and no further medical treatment at all, was just a miracle. It doesn't mean that it won't grow again, but right now we're not focused on that."