I am going to start this blog off by letting you know that I am not a blogger, my beautiful wife Jackie is the one that does all writing in our family — but this time is going to be different. I feel a responsibility to Trevor and all those that love him to somehow share the experience he was given in Germany last week.
Wow, where do I start???
I guess it all started back in March of 2015, when I got a call from my little brother Erik who is stationed at the army base in Vilseck, Germany. As we talked Erik, told me he wanted to bring Trevor and me out to Germany to spend a week at the base with him and the soldiers. Erik told me that a few weeks prior this this call, Jackie had posted pictures on Facebook of when Trevor when out to the National Institute of Health for a visit and he had placed army stickers all over his walker because of his complete adoration of the army and the idea of one day becoming a soldier with his uncle Erik. This action by Trevor inspired Erik to do something for Trevor that would make Trevor a stronger person and change his life forever. I believe at the time, Erik had no idea the impact this trip would have on Trevor’s life and simply believed he was being the “coolest uncle ever”.
Jackie and I knew how excited Trevor was going to be to hear that he was going to spend a week in Germany with me and hanging out with all the soldiers, so we decided to keep it a secret until Trevor’s 8th birthday. When the days got closer to his birthday, Jackie and I would tease Trevor about this ‘huge‘ surprise we had for him, telling him that it was going to be the “best birthday present ever” and, of course, we really rubbed it in and made sure that we drove him crazy with anticipation. Anyway, the day came and we told Trevor about his uncle’s gift. You could imagine the glow of an 8 year old boy who was just told he was going to fly to Germany and hangout with the soldiers for a week. He could hardly wait and told everyone that he met about his upcoming adventures.
So, lets fast-forward a few months to late August. We are in Germany and were able to spend a few days hanging out with Erik, checking out some of the local sites and enjoying Trevor’s new favorite food – wiener schnitzel.
August 26, 2015 – Today is the start of our adventures – I say ‘our’ because I am just as excited as Trevor is at this point. We meet up with the striker unit, and man, I tell you that these young men showed so much love to Trevor so naturally, so sincerely that I was blown away by the magnitude of these soldiers. One of the first things they did for Trevor was to give him an Apache 1/2 CR shirt that Trevor fell in love with. In addition, one of the soldiers asked Trevor if he could give him his CIB pin. This soldier got on his knees in front of Trevor and took this pin off his uniform and explained to Trevor that he was personally under enemy fire in Afghanistan. As he pinned it to Trevor’s shirt he explained that only the bravest soldiers are given this pin, and because of Trevor’s bravery, he wanted him to have it and wear it with pride. I remember feeling an ‘aw’ at that moment, listening to the two of them talk, and thinking to myself what an amazing act of love that was just show to my son whom he’d barely met, and how grateful I was at that moment.
The group then put Trevor in to body amour, Kevlar helmet and wrapped an M-4 around his chest. You can only imagine how cool he felt at the moment as the weight of all that gear nearly made him fall to the ground.
At this point the striker team, the PAOs (Public Affair Officers), Erik, Trevor and myself climbed in the back of a striker and drove to a remote area of the base. This is when they gave Trevor a tour of the striker, explained to him all the features and purposes for the different equipment, computers and gear and then allowed him to climb around and have fun.
August 27, 2015 – This was the day that changed my relationship with Trevor forever. Its not easy to explain why exactly, but after hearing his story, I hope you’ll be able to see.
The day started actually the night before. I didn’t know how Trevor would handle it but we woke to our alarm at 11:00 PM on the night of August 26. Grabbed a quick bowl of cereal and headed to the army base in order to be in formation by midnight. This was going to be the morning that Trevor has been worried about for months. Trevor and his mom have been talking for quite a while about the Spur Ride and what that would mean for Trevor both physically and mentally. I’m not sure if that was the best idea but in our minds we didn’t want to surprise this little dude with “Hey, good morning, ready for a ruck march?” I remember getting a phone call a few weeks before this trip, and Erik had told me that the ruck march was going to be 12 miles and he wanted to know how many I thought Trevor could do knowing his condition. Thinking about the walks around the neighborhood, trips to Costco or watching him play at the park – he always experienced a lot of pain after short periods of exercise. There have been moments, like when Jackie, Trevor and I were walking along the pier in Baltimore, and the pain in Trevor’s feet and legs were so bad that I had to throw him on my back and carry him home. Trevor has always complained to us about how he felt about his strength and how weak he felt, and this was very hard on Jackie and me, because we always knew that Trevor was a tough little boy inside, but his body would fight against him so much that he never got to see his potential. So while all this was going through my head, I also was thinking that this could be an opportunity for Trevor to learn what his body is capable of doing and how strong it actually is, so I told Erik that Trevor would walk 6 miles (exactly half the distance of the full ruck march) with his walker before the four hour timer completed.
At 12:30 everyone got into formation and were given a safety briefing and were told what the expectations were of the hike. When that was completed and the soldiers participating in the march were getting ready, Erik, Trevor and I jumped into a van which took us to the halfway point of the hike where we pulled out Trevor’s walker, tightened all the bolts on, strapped on his pack, and started the 6 mile march at 01:00.
At this point, the hike was just beautiful. It was dark, you could see the moonlight shining between the breaks in the trees, and for the most part we didn’t talk, we simply were enjoying the quiet of forest, no one was around for miles, and the only sounds we heard were those from our steps and the walker rolling through the bumpy dirt road.
One of the things that Trevor loves to do is ask Erik and I “What if…” questions and shortly after we made it down the first major hill, Trevor had about a hundred “what if…” he needed his uncle to answer. But not too long into the hike, I could tell Trevor was starting to feel pain. As we walked Erik and I distracted Trevor from his pains by asking him questions about everything from his favorite things to do, fun activities he and his friends do to what he loves most about his mom and sister – we talked for hours, every step of the way in hopes of helping Trevor forget what he was doing. But there were times when the pain was too much or Trevor needed a fuel boost so Erik and I would make goes and Trevor “We’ll stop at that break in the trees up there=”, or “Just make it to the next mile marker and we’ll stop”. During the stops, we would give Trevor crackers or gummy bears, I would kneel down and carefully stretch both his feet in hopes of alleviating the pain just enough to make it a few hundred more yards.
I remember one moment around mile two, we are into this about an hour and Trevor was really struggling. I could see him do this familiar facial expression when he looks high into the sky and tightly closes his eye trying to stop himself from crying. But this time, the pain was too much and Trevor started to cry softly while he slowly rolled his walker over the rock and dragging his feet as he moved forward. Told told Trevor to stop and take a brake but since we hadn’t made it to our goal, he refused to quit and kept marching along. A few minutes later, ahead in the dark night we could make out the silhouette of the first soldier coming up the road. As this tough young man approached us, Trevor forced himself to stop crying, quickly wiped the tears from his face and gave the soldier a hive-five a with a soft “good job” coming from his voice. Here was an 8 year-old boy, struggling for every step, each second the pain in his legs are getting worse and the only thing he cares about is being an example to this soldier. As his Dad, I had a hard time with this march. I battled with myself in my mind as we walked, wondering if I was having Trevor do this ruck march for my own pride, thinking that a six mile hike was completely selfish and crazy of me to burden my son with. I wanted so badly to pick Trevor up, hung him, tell him he did his best and carry him to the finish line, but another part of me knew what this would mean to Trevor if he finished this hike on his own. Because of that reason, I had to allow my son to be in pain, to feel frustrated with himself, I had to watch him cry because I knew that this little boy needed to know how strong he is – not just mentally but physically. I wanted him to have the absolute knowledge that when he tries out for the swim team this fall, this time he will know he is strong enough to do it or when his friends want to ride bikes around the neighborhood, he will understand that he may be slow but he can do it with them.
So, this was pretty much the pattern for the next 4 miles. Erik and I would distract Trevor as long as possible, his pain would overcome him, we would give him goals on rest points, I would stretch his feet, soldiers would encourage him and we would keep on truck-in. Honestly, if it weren’t for the soldiers telling him how well he was doing and giving high-fives, I don’t believe he would have made it.
Throughout the hike, I was texting with Jackie giving her an update.
Jason (12:25 AM): Trevor is really struggling
Jackie: How far has he gone?
Jason: 2.5 miles
Jackie: Well, he has declined since spring. I guess I’m not surprised that he’s struggling, but it sure sucks. Tell him I’m proud of him, he takes on some pretty big challenges
Jason (12:43 AM): Mile 3
Jason: 1 hr 40 min in
Jackie: Poor kid. Is it mental or physical?
Jason: Physical, lots of pain
Jackie (01:34): How is he doing right now?
Jason (02:09 AM): 5 miles
Jason: 3 hours 10 min
Jackie: He’s gone 5 miles??
Jackie: He’s still going?
Jackie: Wow. Is ok?
Jackie: Only a mile left, Trev. I’m so inspired by how strong you are being. You make me want to be a stronger person. I’m so proud of you.
Jackie: Can you take a few pics of him?
Jason ( 02:35): This is so hard on him.
Jason: Makes me tear up
Jackie: He’s almost done. 6 miles, right?
Jackie: Oh, little guy.
Jackie: Does he want to stop and just can’t because you have to get to the end to get home? Or is he just trying to push because he wants to finish?
Jason (02:50): He just finished!
Jackie: I love you, Bubba
He finished strong in 3 hours and 50 minutes, just under the 4 hour requirement. As you can image this was a very emotional roll coaster for both Trevor and me. As we arrived, Trevor was assigned a team that he was going to pair with during he courses through out the day.