By Brian Lepley (USAREC)December 20, 2012
A Belgian teenager ill with bone cancer asked the Make A Wish Foundation to let him live the life of an American Soldier. The foundation asked U.S. Army Recruiting Command to make that wish come true.
So 17-year-old Antoine Brisbois from Brussels became the guest of Col. John Box, 3rd Recruiting Brigade commander, and lived his Army dream at Fort Knox Dec. 10-12.
Brisbois learned weapons and urban assault training with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division; tangled with a 34th Military Police Detachment working dog; got a demonstration of the 703rd Explosives Ordnance Company's capabilities and bomb robot; and experienced the Apache helicopter and simulator, courtesy of the 8th Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment.
Brisbois' family accompanied him on his journey to Kentucky. His mother and stepfather, Isabelle Francois and Laurent Dullier, and his sister Manon Brisbois, don't speak much English but didn't need to in order to express their amazement and joy for the experience.
"I have always dreamed about meeting American Soldiers and visiting a U.S. military base. I would like to become a Soldier," Antoine said.
The teenager's fascination with America's Army was born listening to his grandfather telling stories of being a Belgian resistance fighter in World War II, the arrival of U.S. troops in Belgium, and of Antoine's great-grandfather's time in a Nazi concentration camp.
"Antoine's wish to be an American Soldier says a lot about our Army … it also says a lot about our military," Col. Box said. "This is all about Antoine. This is all about fulfilling a dream, a childhood dream. It's the right thing to do."
Antoine's cancer, which struck when he was 12, required an implant to repair his upper right arm bone. Emily Denholm of the Make A Wish Foundation said Antoine's letter arrived three years ago. When they were ready to act on it, she contacted Box.
The 3rd Recruiting Brigade's staff took on the coordination mission with the units and involved US Army Cadet Command and Recruiting Command headquarters.
Sgt. 1st Class Sonianica Osborne from brigade operations was Antoine's battle buddy during the visit. She was amazed by his enthusiasm and his family's love of the US Army.
"I'm a recruiter and work hard at trying to convince young people that the Army is the best choice for them," she said. "To see this young man's embrace of the Army, of wanting to be a Soldier, gives me a new perspective. He was so proud to be here and wear that uniform. His mother was crying most of the time."
The embrace was mutual, Osborne said, as each supporting unit treated the young Belgian like a long lost friend.
"When we heard that his wish was being a Soldier, we jumped at the opportunity to help," said Sgt. First Class Anthony Roszko of 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. "We're very much honored."
"The support we got from the units we visited was awesome. They were all so generous with Antoine," Osborne said. "At the dining facility he was admiring a Soldier's badges and that Soldier took all of them off and gave them to him."
Make A Wish arranged for the U.S. Cavalry store in Radcliff to donate an Army Combat Uniform and boots for Antoine.
"It is an extreme honor to wear the American uniform," he said. When asked what his favorite activity was during the trip, he replied, "Everything! Everything was just square!"
Getting up close and personal with the combat arms side of the Army wasn't all he experienced. Elizabethtown Recruiting Company commander Capt. Bradley Lovin staged a swear-in ceremony for Antoine. The teen had office calls with Brig. Gen. Henry Huntley, USAREC deputy commanding general, and Cadet Command and Fort Knox commanding general Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith, who commissioned Antoine an honorary second lieutenant.
"This was more than we ever expected. We were just expecting a tour of the Army base and Antoine would get a chance to speak to some Soldiers, and get a cap or something, but nothing at this level," said his sister Manon. "Everyone has made Antoine so very happy and my family is so very happy, as well."