By Spc. Jeffrey LedesmaMarch 26, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, March 26, 2008) - Through the Make-A-Wish foundation, 5-year-old Gaven Cox took a break from his battle with cancer to "Soldier up" with members of the 1st Cavalry Division for a mission March 20.
Alongside his comrades from the 3rd "Grey Wolf" Brigade Combat Team, Gavin saddled up with the division's horse detachment, flew a virtual Apache helicopter combat flight over the Iraqi capital, and maneuvered on an actual Black Hawk -- all before lunch time.
Gaven and his personal flight crew with Company C, 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment took flight in search of make-believed insurgents, which was the first half of his mission.
"The pilot actually did some pretty hard banks," said Sgt. David Raines, a cavalry scout who rode with the soon to be 6-year-old. "I've done about 20 different rides in combat and none of them were ever like that."
Gaven's mother Melissa Heminger told reporters that her son, who was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2007, has been a Soldier since he was 3 and has proven it more and more each day the last couple of months.
"I look at him everyday and he's fighting it. I know that there are days it's hard for him to just walk to the bathroom, but he just keeps going strong and keeps smiling. The things that children can overcome are amazing," Melissa said.
She said that it is evident each week she walks into the clinic and watches all the other bald children, boys and girls, who are just happy to be there and to still be able to do things that other children can do.
"Gaven's courageous story pretty much mirrors what were fighting for. We go through a lot, but Gaven also has been through a lot," said Lt. Christopher Hall. "It shows what we're doing overseas, what we do everyday is worth while when you see the kind of strength in a kid like that - 5 years old and fighting as hard as we are.
Melissa of Toledo, Ohio, said the last couple of months have been very intense and a rollercoaster ride filled with ups and downs for the tight-knit family. Although their family, who call Kaufman, Texas home, has overcome so much in such a short period of time - it hasn't been easy.
"We have our good days and bad days. The chem., the steroids, the insulin shots," Melissa explained. "All families have their ups and downs. It's a bump in the road we have to get over and we will. It's just a matter of getting there... We have our own little army at home.
"Everybody has their own job, our own responsibilities and we still come together at night at dinner and talk about what we've done all day as if nothing has changed."
Troy Heminger, the stepfather to the four children and the reason Gaven wanted to be a Soldier, has stepped into the family to treat the kids as his own.
The day had been so successful that Troy, an Army veteran, said, "Gaven doesn't even realize he's sick anymore."
Soldiers of Troop C, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment said that little bit of success made all the running around worthwhile.
Hall, the officer in charge the Make-A-Wish project, said that putting all the pieces together has been a lot of tasking, but seeing Gaven come out, seeing him in a uniform, watching him hop on a horse all smiles is definitely worth all the work.
"It's an awesome experience to be able to make a day for him. It takes a lot of power and courage to do what he does every day," said Pvt. Joseph Isaacs, a cavalry scout who has seen what the battle against cancer is like in his own family. "It's hard. It's awesome that he could fight that fight and still come out here and do this with us."
Later in the afternoon, as part of his mission, he traveled to the Engagement Skills Trainer where he used an arrangement of military weapons to take out the animated enemies. He got six confirmed kills.
"(The show of support) is overwhelming. It makes you feel good about the human race," Melissa said. "Soldiers are amazing. The things they do everyday. They're busy, they have so much going on - the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - and these guys still took their time to help Gaven and make his wish come true.
"The smile on my son's face today is just priceless."
When asked what his favorite part of the whole day was Gaven said, "Riding in the Humvee."
With the mission completed and a handful of Soldiers standing at attention, Gaven -- who originally wished for some McDonalds, smiled as he was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.
(Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma serves with the 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)