“Every citizen should be a soldier.” – Thomas Jefferson
However, for some citizens the process to serve one’s country is not always simple. For some citizens, there are battles within their own lives, within their own bodies, that prevent enlistment. For some citizens, like 10-year old Khalil Quarles, a dream of serving in the United States military is just that; a dream. And, yet sometimes that is all you need.
Quarles suffers from a terminal cancer. So when the Baltimore resident, who is currently an outpatient of Gilchrist Hospice Center, was asked what he wanted for Christmas, he asked for something he had wanted for years: to meet a U.S. Army soldier.
“I heard through friends at the hospice that he loved the military, and they wanted to know if I could Skype with him,” said Maj. Norland James, a chief of medical logistics (FWD) for Third Army/ARCENT serving in Kuwait.
The Albany, Ga., native, with the assistance of other soldiers, began to formulate a plan of action to not only allow Quarles to meet him, but to “enlist” the 10-year old in the U.S. Army.
“It was important to me to make his dream come true, so I agreed, but I wanted to make the moment bigger than a call or a picture, so I contacted soldiers in Maryland.”
Word of Quarles and his story spread throughout Fort Meade, sparking community outreach from soldiers and civilians. Over several days, people volunteered, military vehicles were reserved and Christmas presents were bought. The plan of action had become a mission, known simply as “Operation Secret Soldier.”
On Dec. 19, Quarles entered the kitchen at his Maryland home and was greeted by James via Skype (a proprietary voice over internet protocol service and software application).
“I could see in his eyes this was an ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ kind of moment,” said James. “It felt great, knowing that I was helping fulfill this moment for him.”
The two of them, both in uniform, spoke for 10 minutes about their love for the Army before James presented Quarles with an Army Certificate of Appreciation. However, prior to hanging up, James asked Quarles if he could walk outside to meet some of his “friends.”
Beyond his front door, Quarles was greeted by over 40 Army Reserve soldiers, including Maj. Gen. Sanford Holman, commanding officer of the 200th Military Police Command. His family, friends and neighbors stood – some clapping, some crying – together on the front lawn. In his driveway sat a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
“I met some of your teachers and your principal and they said you are a great young man. It sounds like you are living the Army values, which all of our soldiers live by,” said Holman, speaking with Quarles. “Through your fight against cancer, we consider you a great warrior.”
After the singing of the national anthem and an invocation, Quarles, along with his family were asked to stand. Resting on his crutches, Quarles, standing in front of a U.S. flag, raised his right hand and repeated the U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment.
Sanford, and members of the 200th MPCOM celebrated his “enlistment” with military memorabilia and a ride in the HMMWV.
Upon his return, soldiers surprised Quarles and his younger brother and sister with Christmas presents.
As Quarles sat on the front of the HMMWV, holding a miniature U.S. flag, a local reporter asked him how it felt to be a member of the U.S. Army. He didn’t say anything. He just smiled.