FORT HOOD – Five-year-old Gaven Cox was given one wish to do anything he wanted.
Instead of asking to go to Sea World or to meet Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Gaven modestly asked for some McDonald’s food. The child’s parents laughed and told him to make another choice.
“He told us he wanted to be an Army soldier,” said Melissa Heminger, Gaven’s mom. “I was a little bit surprised that he asked for McDonald’s, but in reality, he wanted to be a soldier since he was 3.”
Gaven, who is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was granted one wish by the Make-A-Wish-Foundation.
Heminger said Gaven’s stepfather was a former soldier and his Army medals fascinated Gaven.
While the Army has age restrictions on how old a person must be to enlist, it decided to make an exception.
Gaven, the nation’s youngest soldier, is from Crandall and was “sworn in” there. Crandall is 27 miles southeast of Dallas.
The 5-year-old and his family arrived at Fort Hood early Thursday morning and were greeted by more than a dozen soldiers. He was wearing a miniature-sized combat uniform. In a few minutes, he was given a Kevlar helmet and dog tags and was promoted from specialist to sergeant.
After his promotion, young Sgt. Cox gave a proper Army salute and was given a mission.
“All right, Sgt. Cox, your mission is to go through that gate, ride a horse and kill five enemies,” said Sgt. Christopher Gaines. “Are you ready?”
His 8-year-old sister Jade shouted, “Let’s get them!”
After defeating the “enemy” on horseback, the country’s youngest soldier got to do what most never get to do: Gaven flew a Longbow helicopter.
Well, sort of.
He was granted access to enter a trailer-sized home that was made for training helicopter pilots.
After being seated in the middle of five large rectangular screens, Gaven put on his helmet, equipped with a radio and a microphone.
Eric Fremming, a retired Army aviator who now teaches soldiers how to fly via simulation, began telling Gaven’s father what was going on.
“Right now, we got (Gaven) flying in Iraq,” Fremming said, while pointing to a 12-inch monitor. “When (Gaven) sees some bad guys, he can start shooting.”
After a few seconds, Fremming points to the screen again.
“Oh, wait. Yup, he’s engaged the enemy,” Fremming said.
The simulated machine gun noise overpowered the training area.
“He’s the youngest soldier I’ve ever trained,” Fremming said. “This is just like flying a $40 million Longbow.”
Yet the simulation was just a taste of what was to come as Gaven got perhaps the best gift the Army could give him: an actual ride in a Black Hawk helicopter.
Yet even with all the fun, Gaven became overwhelmed with activity and collapsed to his knees after finishing an activity. Within seconds, a soldier identified only as Pvt. Isaac picked him up and put him on his shoulders.
“You all right?” Pvt. Isaac asked.
Sgt. Cox nodded.
“Good,” Pvt. Isaac said. “You’re a soldier now.”
Gaven’s disease is a cancer of the white blood cells, which are the cells in the body that fight infections. With ALL, immature white blood cells are overproduced in the bone marrow. This causes damage and death to other cells by overcrowding the other white blood cells and ultimately spreads to other organs.
However, there is an 85 percent success rate of curing the disease in children, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Web site.
“He’s been going through some very aggressive therapy,” Heminger said. “But he’s been very strong – I’m having fun, and I think (Gaven) is having fun – it’s nice to forget that he’s sick for a day.”