Ailing teen becomes a Soldier for a day
June 17, 2009
- Alaska Soldiers give a firsthand look at Army life to teen battling Hodgkin's disease
Lately Kayla Colyer-Platzer's reality has been consumed with her battle against Hodgkin's disease.
However, the 15-year-old high school student was able to get a break from her worries Monday when she became a Soldier for a day at Fort Greely.
When Colyer-Platzer arrived at the post from Lewiston, Penn., June 11 with her mother, Deborah Platzer, to spend some time with her sister, 1st Lt. Nicole Vandall, she had no idea what her older sister had in store for her Monday.
"I told her she was going to be my secretary today in the office," Vandall said, who is a military police officer with the Alaska Army National Guard's 49th Missile Defense Battalion. "She thought she was going to be running back and forth to the printer and the copier."
However, with the help of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers and the support of units and organizations from throughout the installation, Colyer-Platzer was able to gain an idea of what it means to be a Soldier in Alaska through a variety of firsthand experiences.
According to Vandall, her younger sister was given the rank of corporal for the day in honor of the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer.
The teenager began the day by attending physical training at 6 a.m. and then had opportunities to ride in a Humvee, visit the 49th MDB's missile field, experience the Engagement Skills Trainer and sample a ravioli MRE for lunch.
The highlight of the day, however, was a flight in a CH-47 Chinook with the Soldiers of Fort Wainwright's B Company, 1st Battalion, 152nd Aviation Regiment, Task Force 49.
The Soldiers provided the flight to Colyer-Platzer, Vandall and Platzer to help the family gain a better understanding of Army aviation and to give them a bird's-eye view of the unique environment Alaskan Soldiers work and train in daily.
After a safety briefing and orientation about the aircraft, the family secured their seats in the Chinook and took flight as a part of a 30-minute exploration of the area's training lands.
Although all on the flight were able to take in the scenery, Colyer-Platzer likely had the best view, as she was able to move around the Chinook while secured with a "monkey-harness" that was fastened to the floor of the aircraft and allowed her to explore the craft while it was in flight.
The teenager showed little hesitation when Spc. Jeffrey Slaughter, B/1-52nd, took her by the hand and led her to the rear of the aircraft, where they sat with their legs dangling into the open air as pristine Alaskan training lands unfolded below them.
Although Colyer-Platzer had a difficult time expressing what she was feeling prior to the flight, she had no problem describing what it was like to take in such a view once they were back on the ground.
"It was scary but fun," she said. "It was amazing. There's got to be a God."
Platzer was truly touched Soldiers would go to such great lengths to be there for her daughter throughout the day.
"It's just amazing that so many people would go through all this effort," she said. "We're from 4,000 miles away, and [that] all of these people would put forth so much effort to making her day special -- it's amazing."
Vandall said it's been challenging to be so far away from her family during such a time of crisis.
"This young lady right here has been my rock," she said of her sister as a tear rolled down her face. "And she's always said she wanted to be a Soldier; that she's destined to be a Soldier."
Fulfilling that wish is something Vandall said she is grateful so many people came together to make a reality for her sister.
"It amazes me that so many people are willing to put forth the effort to make something like this happen," she said. "I know I couldn't have done it by myself. I would have been able to ride in the Humvee and that would have been it if it was just up to me."
Although several units provided support, Vandall said the BOSS program took steps from beginning to end to create the best possible experience for her sister.
"They helped us with raising money for the plane tickets, and they helped with coordination for the (helicopter) flight," she said, adding single Soldiers also participated in the morning PT session and at various other times during the day to make Colyer-Platzer's experience as genuine as possible.
However, while the day may have been an escape from the reality of the Hodgkin's disease the teenager was diagnosed with May 7, the truth is Colyer-Platzer still has a long road ahead of her, her mother said.
"The outlook's good. It gets worse before it gets better. The chemo makes her very sick," Platzer said of her daughter. "We spend days at a time at the hospital. We get home for two weeks and go back and do it again."
Colyer-Platzer and her mother returned to Pennsylvania Tuesday to continue the fight against the disease, and Vandall said she was grateful to be able to make her sister's load a little lighter, even if it was for just a day.
"I was just hoping everything would work out. Now I can relax," she said Monday. "I feel good knowing that she enjoyed the day."