Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Arnette was months from retirement when a July 2012 blood test sabotaged his future.
Having beaten a brain tumor less than two years ago, the Fort Hood Warrior Transition Brigade soldier’s body was now being held hostage by his white blood cells, courtesy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Chemotherapy would slow the body snatchers, but only a bone marrow transplant would kill them for good.
On Friday, as soldiers worldwide commemorated the Army’s 238th birthday with ceremonial cake-cuttings, the soldiers in Arnette’s unit celebrated the day by donating “hope” for a bone marrow match via cheek swabs to honor not only the Army, but Arnette as well.
“It’s really an honor and a privilege for me to know that so many people care,” said the 47-year-old Florida native who was well enough to attend WTB’s birthday ceremony with his wife, Maya, a former WTB soldier now medically retired. “It really boosts my spirit a whole lot. Maybe one of them can help save my life.”
The idea to honor the Army’s birthday with a bone marrow screening was Lt. Col. Chris Cook, commander of the brigade’s 1st Battalion, who discussed treatment options with his Bravo Company soldier.
“He said he needed a bone marrow transplant, so I made a commitment to him that the battalion would hold a bone marrow screening event,” Cook said. “Lots of times, in the WTB, you lose that sense of camaraderie because you are not going to the fields and doing all that Army stuff. This is our way to put our arms around our soldiers who are going through these types of challenges. What better way to honor the Army on its 238th birthday than by taking care of one of our own, as well as our brothers and sisters going through similar situations with cancer?”
Spearheading the drive was Arnette’s company commander, Capt. Marcio Edouard, who praised the career soldier for inspiring his fellow soldiers via his celebration of life.
“When you talk ‘Army Strong,’ that’s him,” said Edouard, adding how much Arnette inspires him. “Here’s a guy who continues to live life to its fullest no matter what. And when I have a bad day, all I have to do is remember him and what he’s going though to realize my day is really not so bad.”
For fellow Bravo Company soldier, Staff Sgt. Tanerrius Robinson, taking the time to swab his cheeks was the right thing to do.
“We help each other in time of need,” said Robinson, sharing his hope with Arnette that the day’s drive will generate a match for him. “He’s shown a lot of courage just to go on every day.”
Also joining in the fight to find a match was his wife, Maya, who is now the caretaker for the man she calls “her blessing.”
The two, who were both personnel specialists, met during their assignment with the same brigade. In 2010, both were transferred to the transition brigade after being diagnosed with complicated medical conditions. They were married August 2012.
“He was taking care of me when I was sick, then I got better and he got sick. It really is a blessing that I’m in a position to take care of him now,” she said, adding how grateful the couple is for the command’s “countless phone calls and home visits.”
“It’s amazing, really, because you aren’t just a number here,” Maya Arnette said.
Although Daniel Arnette is homebound, his wife said it energizes him when he visits his company.
“People are excited to see him,” she said. “Having this screening process in his honor actually helps him in the healing process. It really does make him feel good inside.”
Although Arnette knows it’s a long shot finding a match from the screening drive, he doesn’t let it dampen his spirits.
“If they don’t match me, they’ll match somebody else. I’m just blessed and grateful that they’re here helping other soldiers,” he said. “I already want to live on, but this makes me not want to give up on life.”
“There is a motto in the Army we believe in: Never leave a wounded comrade behind,” Edouard said. “Sgt. 1st Class Arnette might be out of the fight, but he’s still wounded, so we’re not going to leave him behind. We’re still going to be a family to him even when he transitions out of the Army. We’re Army strong, all day long.”