Soldiers help terminally ill boy live military dream

Story by Spc. Alexander Neely, 12th Public Affairs Detachment

Khalil Quarles, 10, raises his right hand during his honorary enlistment into the Army Reserve as his father, Damon, watches the ceremony, held in Baltimore, Md. Maj. Gen Sanford Holman, 200th Military Police Command’s commanding general, read the special Oath of Enlistment for Quarles, who suffers from a rare form of cancer. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, 200th Military Police Command)

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – “Every citizen should be a Soldier.” – Thomas Jefferson

However, for some citizens, the path to service is not always simple. For some citizens, there are battles within their own lives, within their own bodies, that prevent enlistment. For some citizens, like 10-year-old Khalil Quarles, a dream of serving in the United States military is just that; a dream. And yet, sometimes that is all you need.

Quarles suffers from a terminal cancer. So when the Baltimore resident, who is currently an outpatient of Gilchrest Hospice Center, was asked what he wanted for Christmas, he asked for something he had wanted for years: to meet a U.S. Army Soldier.

“I heard through friends at the hospice that he loved the military, and they wanted to know if I could Skype with him,” said Maj. Norland James, a chief of medical logistics (FWD) for Third Army/ARCENT serving in Kuwait.

Army Reserve Capts. John Barbee and Sherman Pittman assist Khalil Quarles, 10, down the sidewalk outside his home during a surprise visit from members of the 200th Military Police Command and the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, 200th Military Police Command)

The Albany, Ga., native, with the assistance of other Soldiers, began to formulate a plan of action to not only allow Quarles to meet him, but to “enlist” the 10-year old in the U.S. Army.

“It was important to me to make his dream come true, so I agreed, but I wanted to make the moment bigger than a call or a picture, so I contacted Soldiers in Maryland.”

Word of Quarles and his story spread throughout Fort Meade, sparking community outreach from Soldiers and civilians. Over several days, people volunteered, military vehicles were reserved and Christmas presents were bought. The plan of action had become a mission, known simply as “Operation Secret Soldier.”

On Dec. 19, Quarles entered the kitchen at his Maryland home and was greeted by James via Skype (a proprietary

Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman, commanding general of the 200th Military Police Command, presents an American flag to Khalil Quarles, 10, at his home in Baltimore, Md., during a surprise visit from members of the 200th Military Police Command and the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve, for his honorary Oath of Enlistment ceremony, Dec. 19. Quarles suffers from a rare form of cancer that affects less than one percent of all people diagnosed with cancer. Quarles, who is terminally ill, said it would be his dream to enlist in the Army. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell, 200th Military Police Command)

voice over internet protocol service and software application).

“I could see in his eyes this was an, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ kind of moment,” said James. “It felt great, knowing that I was helping fulfill this moment for him.”

The two of them, both in uniform, spoke for 10 minutes about their love for the Army before James presented Quarles with an Army Certificate of Appreciation. However, prior to hanging up, James asked Quarles if he could walk outside to meet some of his “friends.”

Beyond his front door, more than 40 Army Reserve Soldiers, including Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman, commanding officer of the 200th Military Police Command, greeted

Quarles. His family, friends and neighbors stood together – some clapping, some crying – on the front lawn. There was a Humvee parked in his driveway.

“I met some of your teachers and your principal and they said you are a great young man. It sounds like you are living the Army values, which all of our Soldiers live by,” said

Holman, speaking with Quarles. “Through your fight against cancer, we consider you a great warrior.”

After the national anthem was sung and an invocation was delivered, Quarles and his family were asked to stand. Resting on his crutches, Quarles, standing in front of a

U.S. flag, raised his right hand and repeated the U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment.

Sanford and members of the 200th Military Police Command celebrated his “enlistment” with military memorabilia and a Humvee ride.

Upon his return, Soldiers surprised Quarles and his younger brother and sister with Christmas presents.

As Quarles sat on the front of the Humvee, holding a miniature U.S. flag, a local reporter asked him how it felt to be a member of the U.S. Army. He didn’t say anything. He just smiled.

  • mike howard

    I read this waiting on lunch to be served at a local restraunt with me father and son. My son finished treatment for childhood leukemia this past Aug. He just asked me why it looked like I was crying. I told him because I am. This was a very touching story. God bless each and everyone involved.

  • Gary Hall

    Stories like this continue to make me proud of our Army and today’s soldiers. Hoo-ahh from an Army veteran!