As many of you know, Rowan received one of the biggest honors you can receive today...and it all came as a surprise to him. Rowan went to Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas and had an enlistment ceremony, becoming an honorary member of the Texas National Guard. It was such an amazing day.
Now, I obviously cannot recant every single, wonderful, moving, moment that we enjoyed today, but I definitely want to try to make you feel like you got to experience it with us, as much as possible. So, I will do my best through the photos that we took today, and through a few specific details, that I hope will give you a better, more complete picture.
We told Rowan we had a surprise for him, but did not give him any clues at all. He had absolutely no idea where he was headed...
...the entire hour drive there.
Once we pulled in though, Rowan sat up taller in his car seat and said, "Are we on a military base?!" We said yes, but he still had no idea what all was in store him him. Actually, none of us were prepared for what was in store today.
He had a reception group waiting for his arrival, and was introduced to, and shook hands with, multiple ranks of the National Guard: SGT, SSG, MSG, SGM, CSM, CW5, 1LT, COL, Brigadier General and Major General (and probably more that I am regretfully forgetting to type). I mean, this was HUGE! We were all so humbled and honored to be in the company of such great men, who defend our country on a daily basis. Rowan was in complete shock, and could barely speak. Which you all know is a big deal for him:)
They helped Rowan and his big brother Ian into a WWII jeep...
And we followed them to the next location on base...
...past the Texas Military Forces Museum and Armor Row Artillery Park...
...to what appeared to be the offices. Rowan thought he was just getting a basic tour of the base, and believe me he would have been thrilled with just that. But, no. His escort took him into a back room and gave him yet another surprise...his own Army issued uniform, hat, and dog tags!
Rowan was speechless, in complete shock.
Ian helped him with his dog tags...
...and he was ready to report to duty.
Then, they lined him up with other members of the National Guard.
This face says it all... he was overjoyed!
This is David Hixson, a PCA from Methodist Children's Hospital, who has taken Rowan's vitals on countless occasions on his overnight shifts while Rowan was hospitalized there on the 4th floor. David is also known as SGT David Hixson, of the Texas Army National Guard. He knew that Rowan dreamed of being in the military, so he spoke to his chain of command and is in all actuality, the one who started this, and eventually made it happen, with the help of many higher ups. We love you David, and cannot thank you enough for making Rowan's dreams come true.
I talked to David again tonight on the phone and we laughed, because this all started from a little piece of paper that Rowan wrote on over a year ago while in the hospital...I wish I could find it right now (I know I saved it), but we both remember that it said "Rowan Windham, you have been accepted in the Army" and it had a dollar amount written on it, which Rowan said he would pay to be in the Army:) David never forgot that dream of Rowan's, and here we are more than a year or two later, watching it come true.
Once they were lined up and the doors opened, all of our jaws dropped.
The room was filled to capacity, and then some, at standing room only. There were nearly 300 members of the National Guard, state and local representatives, and the media. They were all there for Rowan...for his enlistment ceremony.
Rowan received a standing ovation from the crowd when he was announced as the honored guest...
They started the ceremony with all the pomp and circumstance of a true military event.
Rowan recited the oath...
...was presented with his honorary certificate...
...received some more applause...... and just beamed from ear to ear the whole time.
Once enlisted, he was welcomed by his fellow soldiers and countrymen, his new Army National Guard family.
They weren't done there though. Nope. The Deputy Army Commander; Texas Military Forces, Brigadier General Sean A. Ryan went one very important step further. As he explained, once you are enlisted, you are assigned to a specific division. For Rowan, they chose the 124th Cavalry. Brigadier General Ryan continued to explain that the 124th Cavalry is known for pressing on, moving forward... as in, "send in the cavalry!" Then he presented Rowan with the Stetson and Spurs of the 124th Cavalry, placing the hat upon Rowan's head and the the spurs onto his feet. I cannot tell you how special these details were. So monumentally touching!
Rowan saluted the Brigadier General.
They offered him the floor, and he was nervous at first. I told him to just thank them and tell them how he felt about the day. His words, in a very emotional, shaky voice, "Thank you. This is the best day ever, of my whole entire life."
I know the pictures help give you a taste of how important this day was for Rowan, but one thing I did ask them to email me was the script for the ceremony. Below is an excerpt from that script. I wanted to make sure those of you who could not be there in person could hear how they correlated Rowan's life trials and perseverance, to the core values of the Army. It was beautiful, and so poignant. Lots of tears were shed.
"Welcome everyone and thank you for attending today’s event. We are brought here today because of one of our true “Citizen Soldiers”. SGT David Hickson recognized and shared Rowan Windham’s remarkable story with our organization’s leadership. Because of SGT Hickson we are able to recognize an 8 year old young man that examples our organization’s ideals and values. Rowan lives with a rare disorder that affects multiple biological systems, blood and bone marrow. Over the course of his courageous journey, he has spent over 900 days in a hospital, 71 OR trips and dozens of blood transfusions. Rowan is uniquely qualified to be called “remarkable”. Due to missing holidays and birthdays because of extended hospital stays, Rowan and his family, founded a foundation in his name. The purpose is to help make other young patients and their families’ hospitalization a little easier, especially during holiday seasons. This is only one small example that depicts just how special our honoree truly is.
Despite mental and physical adversities that many adults could not manage, Rowan has consistently demonstrated trust in his faith, humble spirit and compassion for others, all of which he has placed before his own personal needs. Rowan’s core values and kind spirit can be directly correlated to our Army Values:
Loyalty: To his friends, family and community
Duty: To meet and exceed difficult treatment requirements
Respect: Treating others better than he expects to be treated
Selfless Service: Putting the needs of other before his own
Honor: Maintains his stead fast demeanor and kind spirit
Integrity: Consistently doing the right thing, when no one is watching
Personal Courage: Faces fear and adversity without hesitation
Rowan’s achievements and inspiration are ideal characteristics that are sought in all organizational members. Because of your qualities and superior community involvement we are all proud to have you as an honorary Texas Army National Guard member."
I know we will never be able to thank every single person who helped put this ceremony together, or all of the men and women who attended and made it so special for Rowan, Ian and our entire family. I do want to at least attempt to thank a few people though:
Escort: 1 LT Watson, SSG Leal
MC: SSG Cruz
Chaplain: Ben Craver
Major General John F. Nichols
Brigadier General Sean A. Ryan
Command Sergeant Major Mark A. Weedon
SGT David Hickson
CPT Martha Nigrelle
The Medics who were present/assigned to help monitor and care for Rowan
Texas House Member, Representative Susan King, District 71
Major General William Smith
Major General Kenneth Wisian
Texas Military Forces Chief of Staff Colonel Gregory Chaney
Texas Army National Guard Chief of Staff; Colonel Darrell Dement
Chief Warrant Officer Five Earnest Metcalf
Command Sergeant Major John Hoxie
Staff members from the offices of Representative Susan King & Representative Ryan Guillen
All of the employees, servicemen and attendees at today's ceremony
And all of the members of the media/press who attended
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your service, kindness, and for your generosity of spirit with Rowan and our family today.
Now, you are surely thinking, like Rowan, that I just documented the best day ever... but, I'm not even done yet. There was so much more after the ceremony itself. I will post "Part 2" tomorrow.