Teen Gets Dream Visit To Fort Benning
(April 25, 2011)
|FORT BENNING, Ga., April 20, 2011 (ANS) -- Christopher
McNally received his orders April 6, 2011, to report to Fort
Like others before him, his first stop on post was
the 30th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). Unlike the
others, McNally is only 16 years old, and has been battling
osteosarcoma for a year.
April 20, 2011 -
Capt. Matthew Stubbs swears in 16-year-old Christopher McNally outside the 30th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), at Fort Benning, Ga. Photo by Army Capt.
Salvador M. Garcia
completely surprised," McNally said of his invitation to
Fort Benning, a request granted by the nonprofit
"Probably nothing in my life will ever match this,
unless I actually get into the military," he said. "I'm
being treated like an honorary member. I kind of just asked
to come here - do an obstacle course, shoot a few guns, get
sent home. I underestimated 100 percent. With all they've
done for me, it's incredible."
visit started Wednesday with in-processing on Sand Hill. He
received the full trainee treatment - a haircut, ID tags,
boot fitting, personalized uniform. His parents, Robert
McNally and Eva Gajewski,
and his 14-year-old brother Michael, watched him
take the oath of enlistment.
Col. Terry McKenrick, 192nd Infantry Brigade commander, said
seeing him sworn in was a special moment for Soldiers like
himself and the brigade's senior noncommissioned officer,
Command Sgt. Maj. Clyde Glenn, both who have given more than
two decades of their lives to serve their country.
"Some Soldiers in formation were just in the Army for a
week," he said, "but for all of us - to see a young man who
went through the most challenging time in his life, more
challenging than most of us will ever go through - for him
to want to become a Soldier for a few days is an incredible
feeling for all of us who served."
"He thinks we're
doing something special for him, but really he's doing much
more for all of us by motivating and inspiring us,"
McKenrick explained. "When you think about the Army values
he's demonstrated by what he's accomplished over the past
years, it makes us so proud to serve."
he hopes McNally returns to Fort Benning, the next time as a
full-fledged American Soldier.
Along with the
National Infantry Museum, which the family toured Tuesday,
units across post supported the visit, including the Ranger
Training Brigade, 197th Infantry Brigade, 198th Infantry
Brigade, 199th Infantry Brigade, U.S. Army Marksmanship
Unit, 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy
Brigade Combat Team, 194th Armored Brigade and 75th Ranger
April 20, 2011 - Christopher McNally crawls
his way to the end of the obstacle course on
Sand Hill at Fort Benning, GA.
Photo by Cheryl Rodewig
In his few days on Fort Benning, McNally
rode in a Black Hawk helicopter, observed physical training
and combatives, fired a rifle, machine gun and sniper rifle,
climbed inside a Bradley and Stryker, rappeled down Eagle
Tower and maneuvered a simulated vehicle in the Close Combat
Tactical Trainer. He wrapped up his visit with the Best
Gajewski said her son has been
interested in the military since early childhood. When he
was diagnosed with cancer last year, that interest became
inspiration, she said.
McNally wore a shirt bearing
the Soldier's Creed and kept an Army Strong T-shirt hanging
on the wall while he went through chemotherapy. Because of
the cancer, he had to have his knee and 8 inches of his
femur removed and replaced with a prosthesis.
pretty much the military that got him through chemo - that
whole motto 'stay strong,'" Gajewski said. "He's probably
not going to be able to serve, but they allowed him to be a
Soldier for a week and that's an absolute wish come true.
That was his dream, to be in the military."
his fight is different, Gajewski said her son had to
exercise courage to continue, and the trip to Fort Benning
was "beyond his wishes."
"It was coming up to the
one-year anniversary, so he's been very down," she said.
"The thoughts go through your head: Is the cancer going to
come back? There's always a chance. This is the most he has
smiled in probably months. I can tell right now his mind is
swirling. He feels like he doesn't deserve it, but he does.
He was a Soldier in a different way."
the whole trip was "indescribable."
"I just have this
fascination with Soldiers: their creed, their motto, their
honor. That's what I like, the history of it, the bravado of
it all," he said. "If I'm not able to do any of this because
of medical reasons, I got to do it now and that's probably
the best thing I could ever ask for. It gives me
Like other Soldiers who come to Fort
Benning for training, McNally faced and overcame challenges,
most notably the obstacle course on Sand Hill and the
34-foot tower on Eubanks Field.
"It was quite an
emotional event," said Lt. Col. Chris Willis, 2nd Battalion,
46th Infantry Regiment, commander, after watching McNally
climb a rope, crawl through trenches, cross a horizontal
ladder and more.
Willis and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey
Brown presented McNally and his brother with battalion
coins, backpacks and unit crests. Brown gave the older teen
his own drill sergeant, Pathfinder, Jumpmaster and Combat
"Chris and his brother Mike
completed the course in 12 minutes, while our platoons of
Soldiers took at least 19 minutes each," Willis said. "The B
Company Soldiers cheered 'Chris, Chris, Chris' while he
negotiated the obstacles and spontaneously broke out in the
Soldier's Creed at one point. It was the highlight of the
week for Command Sergent Major Brown and myself. The family
was extremely appreciative and could not believe how much
the Army was doing. The funny thing is we probably enjoyed
it more than they did."
At the 34-foot tower, McNally
conquered his initial fear and jumped out four times in
Onlookers from the ground couldn't
tell he had reservations, but McNally likened the decision
to jump the first time with the willpower he's needed in his
struggle against cancer.
"To me, jumping out is just
taking a first step," McNally said. "I had to take the first
step - I had to make the decision to go to chemo. I have to
make a decision every day to do my medication. I had to make
the decision to have my femur cut out and replaced with this
"You're never going to get anywhere
unless you make those decisions, even if you're stepping out
into oblivion or stepping into the unknown," he said. "The
first time's always difficult, but if you don't jump out,
you're never going to go."
By Cheryl Rodewig
1st Infantry Division Public Affairs
Army News Service
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