FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Soldiers here helped an 11-year-old boy live out his dream when they made him an honorary Soldier Sunday.
Michael Kelsey, of Marshfield, Missouri, has wanted to be a Soldier since he was 5. He has even adopted the saying "superheroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags." However, Kelsey will probably never realize his dream of becoming a Soldier because of a brain tumor, said Kelsey's mom, Eva Matthews.
Health issues couldn't stop Kelsey from supporting the armed services in other ways, though, including collecting toiletry items for troops for donation to the USO of Missouri.
When Matthews reached out to the USO on Fort Leonard Wood to learn where to drop off Kelsey's donation, the conversation turned to her son, his dream of becoming a Soldier, and his medical issues. The USO, she discovered, wanted to make sure Michael got the chance to live his dream.
They wanted to make his visit the best day of his life, said Brownfield, director of the Fort Leonard Wood USO. There was no way he was going to show up just to drop off toiletry items.
"We do everything we can for our service members and their Families, but this is special," Brownfield said. "This is a little boy who has no affiliation with the military, and this is his dream. That we could make this happen with everyone around us is priceless."
Kelsey's visit began like many other Soldiers when they first arrive at Fort Leonard Wood: uniform issue. In order to be a Soldier, Kelsey needed to dress like a Soldier, said 2nd Lt. Michelle Kramlich, executive officer of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment.
A complete set of the Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform was issued to Kelsey by the drill sergeants of C Company, who then escorted Kelsey around for the day.
"It's a very humbling experience to be able to be a part of this," said Staff Sgt. Ross Muller, a drill sergeant with C Company, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry.
During his visit, Kelsey drilled and rode in military vehicles with the Soldiers of C Company and even learned basic Soldier skills.
After his first meal as a Soldier in a dining facility, Kelsey was presented with a set of dog tags and a combat patch from Brig. Gen. James Bonner, Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School commandant.
"It was an honor to have a role in Michael's special day," Bonner said. "He is an inspiration to everyone here on Fort Leonard Wood, and he left a lasting impression with his contagious smile and selfless personality."
Eventually, Kelsey received goodie bags of Army memorabilia from every unit that participated in his visit.
The occasion culminated with the 11-year-old being named to the Honorable Order of "The Rough Riders" by Col. Tracy Lanier and Command Sgt. Maj. Tyson Gooslby, Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood command team.
"When times get hard, think about this moment," Lanier told him. "We always want you to remember this, Michael."
As just the 11th person to receive the honor, Lanier added, Kelsey joins the great company of those who have demonstrated true courage, character and integrity.
"We are proud to be here with one of the Army's finest Soldiers," Goolsby added.
Wide-eyed, Kelsey could barely contain his excitement when he offered his thanks to those who helped make his dream come true.
"Thank you to all of the Soldiers who helped make this happen," Kelsey said. "Today was the best day of my life."
"Michael and I would like to thank everyone at Fort Leonard Wood who made today possible," Matthews said. "From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Each and every one of you made his dream come true. This is something that he is never going to forget."