Missile Defense Soldier Arranges Special Day for Sister with Cancer
July 21, 2009
DELTA JUNCTION, Alaska --When Lt. Nicole Vandall, with the Military Police Company, 49th Missile Defense Battalion at Fort Greely, learned her younger sister had stage three Hodgkin's lymphoma, she wanted to do something special for her.
Vandall's sister, Kayla Collyer-Platzer, is 15 and was diagnosed with the disease on May 7.
"She always wanted to be in the Army when she got older," said Vandall.
So, at 15, Kayla joined the Army for a day.
Vandall, who has been at Fort Greely since October, talked to her commanders in the Alaska National Guard and arranged for Kayla to participate in some of the daily activities with the Soldiers on post.
The only challenge that remained for Vandall was to come up with the money to pay for her sister and mother to make the trip to Alaska before Kayla was too sick to travel.
Working with her fellow soldiers and friends, Vandall worked to raise the money and plan the trip. The Fort Greely Better Opportunity for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program also helped plan the day's activities.
Desiring to help others, Vandall has created KaylaBeth Kreations to help raise money.
Kayla and her mother, Deborah Platzer, flew to Alaska from their home in Lewistown, Penn. Kayla had no idea what was in store for her in Alaska. The normal tourist stuff and visiting occupied her first two days. She saw some of the classic sights in Interior Alaska.
After a couple of days visiting the area, Kayla was to go to work with Lt. Vandall and be a "soldier for a day."
"I told her she would be my secretary, so she thought she would be running back and forth to the copier," Vandall said.
As Kayla was trying to decide what to wear for her soldier experience, Vandall gave her a uniform that just happened to fit and had her name above the pocket. With the rank of "corporal," Kayla was all set for her day at Fort Greely.
With the summer solstice only a week away, it was daylight long before Kayla lined up for physical training at 6 a.m. The early morning was no problem for Kayla. The four hour time difference meant it was mid-morning for her, and she was ready to go.
Dressed in her ACUs (Army Combat Uniform) and with an Army t-shirt tied around her head to hide the hair loss that is a telltale sign of chemotherapy, Kayla lined up for the early morning workout.
Several of the other soldiers in the company also wore t-shirts around their heads in support of Kayla. Kayla undergoes chemotherapy during a three-day stay at the hospital and then has a follow-up visit.
"It's not any fun," she said.
She then gets two weeks before having to return to the hospital for the next round of treatment. She visited Alaska the weekend between two sets of treatments.
According to Platzer, Kayla's mother, she "has an 80-90 percent chance of complete recovery."
The doctors say her age and the fact that the Hodgkin's was caught early contribute to her ability to recover.
"It will get worse before it gets better," she said.
"It's just amazing that so many people would go through this much effort to make her day special," said Platzer.
Following the morning exercise routine, Kayla had the opportunity to use some of the training equipment the Soldiers use to prepare for their mission guarding the missile defense complex at Fort Greely.
"There were some cool video games," she said.
Much of the Soldiers' training is done using simulation equipment, including small arms training. Kayla had the opportunity to shoot several different weapons including an M-60, M-249, and M-16.
She also spent some time on the missile field, which included a ride in a military Humvee. She got to see what it was like to be in the gun turret on top of the vehicle, on guard against unfriendly forces.
Being a Soldier would not be complete without having the opportunity to eat an MRE for lunch. Kayla was provided a "Meal Ready to Eat" with ravioli as the main course. According to one of the others in the group with Kayla, "the ravioli isn't the best you'll ever eat."
Kayla's afternoon included a trip over to Allen Army Airfield, where she was briefed on her pending flight in an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
While waiting for the helicopter to arrive, Kayla said, "It's been a great experience and I can't believe she (Vandall) did this just for me."
Two Chinooks arrived as scheduled from Task Force 49 at Fort Wainwright. Flight crews briefed Kayla and the others scheduled for the flight. There was a look of surprise in Kayla's eyes when it was explained to her that there was a harness for her to wear so she could sit on the back ramp of the helicopter during the flight.
Once the Chinook was in the air, after a little coaxing from Spc. Jeffrey Slaughter, B Company, 152nd Aviation Regiment, Task Force 49, Kayla accompanied him out onto the rear ramp of the helicopter, where she rode for most of the flight south to the Trident Glacier and back.
What did Kayla think of her flight'
"It was the greatest thing I've ever done," she said.
Kayla and her mother returned to Pennsylvania the following day for Kayla to prepare for her next round of treatment.