FORT HOOD — Since the age of 4, Neil Sawh has wanted to be a soldier.
“I don’t know how he became so interested in the military,” said Nelini Sawh, his mother. “The Army must be what he was born to do.”
Now 9, Neil is still adamant he will be a soldier one day. On his 18th birthday, he doesn’t want a party, he wants to go enlist, his mother said.
None of Neil’s immediate family is in the Army and, living in Houston, he doesn’t see soldiers on a daily basis. Regardless, most of his toys are Army-related, and he knows the difference between a Chinook and a Black Hawk, a Bradley fighting vehicle and a tank.
But two years ago, Neil was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy; and about three months ago, he lost his ability to walk.
“He is convinced he will be able to go into the Army in his wheelchair,” Sawh said. “He said they’ll build a Humvee to go around his wheelchair.”
On Friday, Neil’s dream came true as he was made an honorary sergeant and deputy commander of 1st “GarryOwen” Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
In an enlistment ceremony, Neil donned an Army Combat Uniform top with the division’s patches and repeated the oath of enlistment from Lt. Col. Jay Miseli, squadron commander.
“We wanted to make sure it was a day he would never forget,” Miseli said.
To do so, Miseli invited Neil and his family to the GarryOwen Games, a monthly event where the squadron’s troops compete against each other in a physical competition. Friday’s event was a timed course through an urban training ground while carrying a tank round.
As Apache Troop took off through the course, Neil yelled and cheered them on. Miseli pushed his wheelchair around the rocky terrain and explained military terms and history to him.
“(Neil) reminds me why it’s such a privilege to lead this squadron today,” Miseli said. “He reminds me how much regard fellow citizens show soldiers.”
After his enlistment, soldiers showered Neil with warm wishes and gifts, including a Stetson, an Expert Infantryman Badge and a 1st Cavalry Division patch.
“It’s the first patch I got when I deployed,” said Spc. Jordan Ehpel of passing it on to Neil. “I felt proud when I was given that, so I wanted him to have it.”
He said he was once like Neil, deciding to join the Army around age 10 after watching soldiers in movies.
While Neil was quiet during most of the day’s events, his dad, Navin Sawh, said he knew he would be talking about the trip the whole way home.
“He’s absorbing everything,” he said. “This is definitely the highlight of our lives to date. I thought when I got married it would be the best thing, but this beats it. Seeing him so happy and being here. ... I can’t think of any words right now to express myself.”
Neil said when he gets home, he knows exactly what he will tell his friends first: “I’m in the Army.”
For more on Neil’s story and the GarryOwen Games, read Wednesday’s Fort Hood Herald.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.