By Capt. Martha NigrelleDecember 1, 2016
AUSTIN, Texas - One of our Warrior Ethos is "Never Leave a Fallen Soldier."
Over the last few months, I have seen my fellow Texas Guardsmen stand up to this challenge in a way that both humbles me and makes me proud to serve alongside them.
On March 27, 2015, the Texas Army National Guard came together and conducted an honorary enlistment ceremony for an eight-year-old boy battling a rare disorder, whose dream was to become a Soldier.
The significance of the ceremony is important to mention, because when you enlist in the Texas Army National Guard, you become part of a family.
And on that day, Rowan Windham became part of our family.
"He's one of us now," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, the Command Senior Enlisted Leader of the Texas Military Department to Rowan's mom, as they were getting ready to leave that day. "So please, keep in touch. We want to know how he is doing."
When we met him, Rowan needed a bone marrow transplant and was scheduled to get one later that year. But there were some bumps in the road and a year later, he still didn't have a match.
Upon finding this out, many of my fellow Guardsmen came to the same conclusion -- we should have a bone marrow drive. Maybe one of us could be the match for Rowan.
So we did the research, asked our leadership and set a date.
In the meantime, Rowan was cleared for an experimental bone marrow transplant with what's called a "half-match;" with someone who is a perfect half-match because the recipient has half of their DNA. It is risky because as you are trying to do everything possible to convince your body to accept the transplant, you also have to figure out how to protect your body from the half that isn't a match.
As we planned our bone marrow drive, Rowan and his family flew to Seattle to go through the transplant process.
Then we found out that things weren't going so well. So what does a good noncommissioned officer do when one of his Soldiers is out of the fight? He checks on the Soldier. He speaks to the family. He lends his support in any way possible.
And that's exactly what our Command Sergeant Major did -- he called the family, he checked on Rowan and he even phoned a friend -- the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the Washington Military Department and asked her to send a few Guardsmen to the Seattle Children's Hospital to check on Rowan, on behalf of Texas.
Right away, our friends in Washington stepped up. They visited Rowan and experienced the same thing that we did -- Rowan is awesome. So they asked if they could come again, and promised they would be back in a few days.
The next day Rowan slipped into a coma, and medically speaking, things got pretty bad.
This was what was happening when the bone marrow drive kicked off. When word got out that Rowan wasn't doing well, Texas Guardsmen showed up.
They showed up and put themselves on the national registry --if they couldn't be the match for Rowan, maybe they could be the match for someone like him. Even Maj. Gen. John Nichols, the adjutant general of Texas, came by wanting to donate and leave Rowan a note.
"We want to personally thank each service member who got swabbed, and each individual involved in the planning, organizing and processing of the bone marrow drive," said Carrie Windham, Rowan's mother. "We are deeply touched."
A few days later our friends, in Washington, went back to Seattle to check on Rowan for us, and even though he was unconscious, they spent the day by his side.
"These men and women drove over an hour to get here, brought him amazing tokens of their support that he will cherish forever and spent their valuable time getting to know us," said Windham. "What they did for him, though he wasn't aware at the time, was remarkable."
When I joined the Army in 2005, one of the first things I learned was the importance of a battle buddy-it's family. The men and women who fight alongside you become your family, and if you lose one, their family becomes your family.
I'm happy to report that Rowan has made a lot of progress. He is still in the pediatric intensive care unit, but he's no longer in a coma and it looks like his bone marrow transplant may have been successful!
When we brought Rowan into our ranks, we gained a battle buddy and we made a commitment to him, that we would never leave him behind.
To my fellow Guardsmen in Texas and Washington, thank you for showing us what it means to stand by a fellow Soldier no matter what -- it is an honor to serve alongside you.
And to Rowan, you have 24,000 people supporting you here in Texas. We're thinking about you, we're praying for you and we've got your back.