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    The fighter: Young 'Soldier' inspiring to many who meet, know him

    The fighter: Young 'Soldier' inspiring to many who meet, know

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Kim Snow | Dennis Channel Jr., right, dons an aircrew's "quick don" oxygen mask during an Oct. 23...... read more read more

    By Staff Sgt. Kimberly D. Snow
    196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    OHIO - Dennis Channel Jr. is the picture of an American hero, from the green beret
    pulled down smartly over his closely-cropped hair to the desert combat boots
    encasing his marching feet. However, at only 4 feet 4 inches tall and about
    65 pounds, "Bubba," as those closest to Dennis affectionately refer to him,
    is a bit smaller than the average Soldier. But then, he is only in the fourth
    grade. He is a child like no other-and like every other. And at the tender
    age of 11, he is in a fight for his life. But many days, no one would never
    guess it.

    A rough start

    Born with a cleft palate and diagnosed with astrocytoma - a cancerous brain tumor - at 5 years old, Bubba has seen more hospital rooms than any child should ever endure. He bears the scars of 11 surgeries, has lost and regrown his hair following numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and tolerated extreme weight gain and loss due to hormone therapy.

    "They gave him five years. That was more than six years ago," said his mother, Shawna. "We call him our walking miracle."

    Today, his mischievous grin, deceptively healthy appearance and positive outlook make it hard to imagine the preteen is fighting for his life.

    "He's always so positive," Shawna said. "Sometimes I find our roles are reversed. Sometimes when I'm having a tough day, I look to him for inspiration."

    Like many boys his age, Bubba loves riding his go-cart, playing with his friends and especially wrestling with his brother, Kile. He attends classes at his local elementary school along with Kile, 9, and his sister, Tasha, 6. Although radiation and chemotherapy treatments kept him away from his peers at Millersport Elementary School for more than a year, he now attends classes half days when he's not sidelined by the severe headaches that sometimes accompany his illness.

    "He loves being back in school," Shawna said. "He just wants to be a normal kid. The other kids are really supportive. They're really great to him."

    The patriot

    Although in many respects he's like any kid his age, his father, Dennis Channel Sr., a former regular Army troop, raised Bubba to carry himself with the confidence and respect of a Soldier. When questioned, his reply is consistently followed by "sir" or "ma'am." He displays a level of patriotism and stoicism rare even among the ranks of combat-hardened veterans-which is perhaps why many of them, including his friends in the Ohio National Guard, react so strongly to him.

    "He was 4 or 5 when the (World Trade Center) towers fell," Shawna said. "He watched it on TV. That was when he got 'into' the military. He quit playing with his other toys and all he wanted to do was be a Soldier."

    When he is feeling well enough to attend school, Bubba usually wears the Army Combat Uniform, complete with rank and Special Forces patches, given to him by Soldiers from the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 5th Special Forces Group during a visit to the post this summer.

    "One of the kids at school said, 'Why do you wear that?' Cause I like the Army and I support the troops!" Bubba said earnestly. "One of the other kids tried to take my flag off my jacket. I about kicked his butt!"

    Last spring, after surviving a particularly rough, experimental treatment, Bubba's uncle, Steve Channel, a former military police officer, awarded him the latest addition to his uniform-a patch on his right shoulder sleeve. The patch had been sent to him from a friend serving in Iraq after learning of Bubba's battle with cancer. A right sleeve patch is a badge of honor among Soldiers, signifying they have served in a combat zone.

    "He went through a new chemo treatment that's only been tested on three other kids," Shawna said. "It nearly killed him. His uncle Steve gave it to him after that."

    Bubba's room, dubbed "the bunker," houses the rest of his rather large military collection. Military model aircraft hang from the ceiling and his dresser is painted in jungle camouflage. Coins, posters, photos and certificates-most gifts from U.S. troops stationed all over the world-cover nearly every surface in the room. Two American flags that have flown over U.S. bases in Iraq are proudly displayed on one wall, and signed letters and photographs from several high-ranking officials including President George W. Bush dominate the opposite wall.

    "He's sort of become a celebrity. I don't know how half of these people hear about Bubba," Shawna said. "Some of these things just show up here."

    His two favorite songs are Toby Keith's post-Sept. 11 anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," which he sang at a recent school assembly. His outspoken love of country and the U.S. military is almost immediately apparent to everyone he meets and as a result, he has been unofficially adopted by individuals and units from all branches of service - most recently, the Ohio National Guard.

    Pilot for a day

    After learning about Bubba through letters and e-mails from the offices of U.S. Reps. Patrick J. Tiberi (Ohio's 12th District) and Zack Space (Ohio's 18th District), Ohio National Guard officials arranged a "Pilot for a Day" visit Oct. 23 for Bubba and his family at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base. They spent the first half of the day with Airmen from the 121st Air Refueling Wing and the second half with Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation Regiment.

    As they approached the base's main entrance to begin their visit, an electronic billboard out front displayed the greeting, "Welcome to the 121st ARW. Welcome Dennis Channel." Once inside, Senior Master Sgt. Rich Coots, a life support specialist with the 121st, presented Dennis with a flight suit and jacket complete with a personalized The Ohio State University Buckeyes nametape (just like all the pilots he met that day) and unit patches, along with a VIP badge. Coots hauled out his Air Force survival equipment and explained each item's use, letting the kids wear and try out the equipment. As a special treat, he put Bubba in a harness and set him up in a parachute trainer. Bubba hung suspended from the apparatus, a huge grin disappearing beneath the tinted visor of the flight helmet as he gave everyone an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

    "Can my brother do it, too?" he asked Coots as he climbed out of the contraption. Throughout the day, Bubba continued to request his family members be allowed to share in the fun, particularly, Kile.

    After touring the facility and crawling through a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft used for mid-air refueling, the group broke for lunch. Master Sgt. Kevin Colwell, operations non-commissioned officer for Company B, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, and Staff Sgt. Steven Clemente, the unit's training NCO, learned of Dennis' visit and arranged to meet the group for lunch. Colwell, who suffered the loss of his 4-year-old son, Austin, to Spinal Muscular Atrophy two years ago, quickly bonded with Bubba and invited him and the Channel family back to observe an airborne operation they would
    be conducting at their next drill assembly.

    The family returned to the base to spend the second half of their day at the
    Army Aviation facility, touring the hangar, climbing around in Black Hawk
    helicopters and checking out the weapons and equipment. Despite a dreary,
    rainy morning and afternoon, the weather cleared up just enough for the day's
    highlight. Although military regulations prohibited a flight in a military
    aircraft, Chief Warrant Officer Adam Worthington, who is also a helicopter
    pilot for the Columbus Police Department, arranged to fly his CPD helicopter
    onto the base and offered Dennis a ride as honorary "copilot." Once again,
    Bubba wanted to share the experience and his uncle Steve joined them for a
    flight over Columbus, including Bubba's house and The Ohio State University's
    "Horseshoe" stadium.

    A day with the Green Berets

    Bubba and about a dozen family members returned to the base Nov. 4 to watch
    the Special Forces troops prepare for and jump from a CH-47 Chinook cargo
    helicopter. Colwell, the assigned jumpmaster for the day's mission, brought
    them into the hangar to watch as the men suited up, packed their parachutes
    and conducted safety briefings and inspections, then took them out to tour
    the helicopter and meet the crew.

    Chief Warrant Officer Scott Vega, one of the pilots, explained the various
    features of the aircraft as Bubba peppered him with questions.

    "How fast can you go? How much does it weigh? How long are the rotor blades?"
    Bubba asked. He absorbed of all the information and was astonished when Vega
    explained that the 23,000-plus pound helicopter is buoyant.

    "I can't believe that thing can float... that's something," he said, shaking
    his head.

    As the mission time approached, they were shuttled out to the drop zone to
    get a first hand view of the operation. They approached just as the first
    group of jumpers was exiting the helicopter. As they exited the bus, their
    heads automatically tilted back and they peered upward, eyes squinted, trying
    to focus on the small dots in the sky above them. Gradually, the dots grew
    larger and began to take shape as the paratroopers drew closer and finally
    began dropping onto the grass around them.

    As one troop, Master Sgt. Rodney Goss, landed nearby, Bubba strode
    confidently up to him and extended his hand. "Good job," he said. "You did a
    really good job!"

    The Special Forces paratrooper broke into a wide grin and extended his hand,
    engulfing Bubba's tiny hand with his own. "Thanks, buddy!" he replied.

    A Soldier's heart

    Back at home a few weeks later, the Channel family spends a lazy Sunday
    afternoon decorating for Christmas and mentally preparing for Bubba's next
    round of treatment scheduled for Dec. 18, just a week shy of Christmas. The
    gamma knife surgery-which doesn't use a surgical blade at all, but rather a
    precise dose of radiation-will pinpoint 201 laser beams at a new tumor in his
    brain, hoping to stop it in its tracks. They expect the outpatient treatment
    will allow Bubba to be back in the comfort of his "bunker" the same day.

    Although Bubba receives most of his treatment at a Children's Hospital, all
    radiation treatments are administered at The Ohio State University's James
    Cancer Center. While undergoing radiation treatments, the patient must lie
    still; this can be difficult, especially for a young child. During these
    treatments, Bubba found a special way to keep his mind occupied.

    "When he went through his chemotherapy treatments, he would close his eyes
    and sing cadence," Shawna said. "By the time he was through with the series
    of treatments, the nurses and health care staff were singing cadence with

    Colwell has stopped by this day to visit with Bubba and the family and to
    deliver a gift-a music video produced by Spc. Steve Engle, a broadcast
    journalist with the Ohio Army National Guard's 196th Mobile Public Affairs
    Detachment, using footage from the previous weeks' visits. Bubba sits quietly
    back, occasionally chatting with the adults as his siblings and cousins
    wrestle around on the floor. He's suffering a headache, but won't complain.
    That's a problem, Shawna says-his doctors have told her that they need to
    watch him closely because he often won't complain until the pain is nearly
    intolerable. She said he abhors the mental fogginess the morphine brings and
    he simply doesn't want to trouble anyone.

    The group gathers around a television in the small living room to watch the
    video; they're set to Bubba's two favorite songs. As they watch, tears begin
    to well up in the eyes of Dennis Sr., who is sitting alone opposite his wife.
    He silently rises and moves to sit next to Shawna, drawing her close. Bubba
    observes the gesture, smiles and continues watching. He is used to witnessing
    such emotion, and seems to draw strength and comfort from it.

    "He tells us to look on the bright side," Shawna says. "He said he talked to
    God and He told him, 'God gave me this cancer as a gift so I can touch
    people's lives.' He was 5 or 6 when he first said that."

    As he better understands his illness and its limitations, Bubba's dreams of
    serving in the Army have evolved. He holds out a black nylon case with his
    name embroidered on it. It was his favorite birthday present this year, he
    tells Colwell. He unzips the case to show a camouflage bible. His dream now
    is to be an Army chaplain.

    Although he may not recognize it, his dream of serving and comforting troops
    is already being realized. His enthusiasm, strength and patriotism remind the
    Soldiers he meets of why they serve. He makes them feel good about what they
    do and as a result, they stand a little taller in their uniforms.

    "Dennis brings out the best in people, the best in human nature," Colwell
    said. "I immediately noticed similarities with other people I've known in
    similar situations and it's easy to see his strength, courage and joy for

    Despite the hardships and hurdles, Bubba's extended family remains hopeful
    and optimistic, and is determined to follow the doctor's advice, Shawna said.

    "His doctor told us 'It's not the quantity, but the quality that's important.
    So go live life,'" she said.



    Date Taken: 12.18.2007
    Date Posted: 12.18.2007 17:35
    Story ID: 14820

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