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Dawson County Soldier Boy rises in ranks
4 Soldier Boy pic
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Josh Carr gives Kenny Stewart his new lieutenant colonel gear. - photo by David Renner Dawson Community News

After a long process and much paperwork, Kenneth "Kenny" Stewart III has been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

The honorary rank was conferred Friday on the 11-year-old in an official proclamation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Known in the Dawson County community as "Soldier Boy" due to his love of the military, Stewart was diagnosed with medulloblastoma cancer in 2008.

After two years of extensive treatment and surgery, an MRI revealed Stewart to be cancer free in March 2010. A year later, however, the tumors in his brain and spine returned.

According to his mother, Ana Miles, the "Soldier Boy" nickname is ideal to describe her son as a fighter and a strong young man.

The promotion campaign was put into motion by Pam Hamalainen, lieutenant colonel aide de camp of the governor's staff, who sent various e-mails to local and national representatives.

Hamalainen contacted Andrew Isenhour with Deal's office, who responded.

"We have received your request on behalf of Kenneth Stewart III and his Lt. Col. certificate should be arriving within the next several days," Isenhour wrote in an e-mail. "His story is very touching ... I am very sorry to hear of Kenneth's situation. Please know that our hearts go out to him and his family during this difficult time. Thank you for bringing his condition to our attention."

Hamalainen, along with Lucy and Rick Harris, parents of late 1st Lt. Noah Harris, delivered the certificate and proclamation to Stewart's home. They were joined by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Josh Carr and Staff Sgt. Kevin Shultz.

Following the bestowing of rank, Carr and Shultz exchanged salutes with Stewart, now a ranking officer of the two soldiers.

Carr then gave Stewart "perks of being an officer" - a new "multi-cam" visor, a digital camo boonie cap and a National Guard NASCAR shirt. He also received a fitted cap, National Guard hat for his mother, a water bottle, die-cast National Guard car and a special issue military shoulder bag.

The "multi-cam" visor is part of the newest camouflage pattern worn only by soldiers serving in combat zones.

Shultz also had some gifts for the new officer, which included a 48th brigade unit patch for Stewart's fatigues, an American flag patch for other arm and a flag patch used specifically for combat operations.

The infrared material used on the patch keeps the red, white and blue of the flag from giving away the soldier away, but it lights up with night-vision goggles to distinguish the nationality.

Carr and Shultz also shared a special tradition with Stewart.

"Whenever you give your first salute, you're supposed to give a coin to the enlisted soldier you salute, then you exchange coins," Carr said. "That's the tradition of an officer to the enlisted."

Shultz and Carr then saluted and exchanged coins formally with Stewart.

Hamalainen had a few words of advice for the young officer.

"I hope you're ready, because as a soldier with a rank, you really have to do some work. It's a responsibility," she said.

Miles said the gesture meant the world.

"Thank you all, but especially to Pam [Hamalainen], because you began this little circle and look how big it's grown," she said. "And that's happening every second of every day. I'm getting a new person that's been touched. It gives me goose bumps to think about it."

Hamalainen refused to take credit for the event.

"You marvel at his [Kenny's] strength, but it comes from you [Ana], and your strength comes from Him," Hamalainen said. "And you've made all of us stronger because of it. We can face things that before maybe we wouldn't have been able to before we got to know you and Kenny."

Added Carr: "I know that you've got a lot of things in life and a lot of love, but I want you to know you have my utmost respect."

The ceremony ended with a prayer circle around Stewart with Carr reading a passage from Psalms 89.

Carr had one final bit of advice for Stewart.

"Just remember, you'll never outrank your mom."

Being named an honorary US Army officer wasn't the only event for Stewart and his family last week. On Jan. 12, Dawson County Middle School hosted "A Night with Elvis," a fundraiser for Stewart. The night of raffles, cakewalks and musical entertainment was organized by family friend Shelley Swofford.

"We still have donations coming in from those who couldn't be here on Saturday," said Swofford. "But when all is said and done, we're looking at around or maybe a little over $10,000 raised."

Swofford said that the money raised during the fundraiser, which goes to cover any medical or other costs for Stewart's family, was a "fantastic" amount.