How to help
A gold drive fundraiser will be held for “the Soldier Boy” through Dec. 15. All proceeds will benefit Kenny Stewart. To donate, contact Kimberly Segraves at (678) 549-3537 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Firing machine guns, zipping through the sky in a helicopter, descending a 30-foot tower and lounging in a limousine at day’s end.
Sound like an adventure?
Kenny Stewart III sure thought so.
The Robinson Elementary School third-grader took a trip to U.S. Army Ranger camp last week and got a crash course in military tactics from experts who showed him the ropes.
It was an opportunity afforded by several members of the community, who knew of the boy’s fascination with the Army.
Stewart, who is battling brain cancer, jumped at the chance and couldn’t stop smiling Dec. 1 as he marched around Camp Frank D. Merrill.
“He absolutely loved it,” said mother Ana Miles. “He was ecstatic.”
When she heard the plans that had been mapped out for her son, Miles said she was “blown away.”
“We certainly didn’t expect it to be this big,” she said. “The limo ride was amazing in itself.”
Limo driver Jim Hunt volunteered to escort the family to and from Ranger camp Dec. 1.
“I really wanted to help out on this,” Hunt said. “My heart pours out for this child. He’s been going through all this like a champ, and he loves life.”
Hunt was asked to escort the family by Wayne Watkins, a member of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. Watkins was also the go-between with Ranger camp personnel in Lumpkin County.
“A friend put me in touch with some people, and it all happened very quickly,” Watkins said. “I told them about this child I knew with brain cancer, who had a wish to get involved with Rangers at Ranger camp. The rest is history.”
The day started with a visit from Watkins to the family’s home. Stewart answered the door decked out in camouflage from head to toe.
Watkins told Stewart, Miles and little brother, Alex, 3, the specifics of the day.
“All Kenny knew was that he was going on an adventure,” Watkins said. “He didn’t know it was going to be this big.”
The family hopped in the limo for the 30-minute trek north to Lumpkin County.
Upon arrival, Stewart met several high-ranking officials who shook his hand and gave him a keepsake coin for the visit.
The group then ate lunch in the chow hall to prepare for the day’s endeavors.
At noon, military personnel set Stewart up with a machine gun full of blanks.
“You should have seen his face when he was shooting that thing,” said Watkins, who met the family at the camp. “I’ve never seen a smile that big.”
The smile didn’t fade as Stewart hopped aboard a military helicopter and soared hundreds of feet above the mountainous base.
After landing, Stewart tried his hand at rappelling. On the first try, an instructor guided him down a 30-foot drop. The second time around, he did it all by himself.
The day ended with the presentation of an honorary Ranger certificate for Stewart. He then rode home in the limo with his mother and little brother, still wearing a big smile.
Asked his favorite part of the day, Stewart responded: “All of it.”
A boy of few words, he did offer a little advice on rappelling. “Whatever you do, don’t look down,” he said.
Miles said she was grateful to the community and Army officials for giving her son the “chance of a lifetime.
“For this many people to come together and get involved to make this little boy’s day, I just thank God. Kenny may never get to do these things again,” Miles said.
“We’re not promised tomorrow, so I’m thankful he was there and he was able to experience that.”
Stewart is undergoing chemotherapy for two brain tumors, which are considered inoperable. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment are the only option, Miles said.
“There’s no promise, so we kind of live day to day,” she said. “He’s not doing bad right now, so we’re thankful for that.”
Miles said last week’s adventure could have been just what the doctor ordered.
“When he came home that evening, he was so full of confidence,” she said. “He was thankful. I don’t know what you can expect out of an 8-year-old as far as expressing himself with words.
“It was the big smile on his face ... that said everything.”