A Soldier for Life

“I want to thank all of you for doing this for my son, letting him know that anything is possible, letting him shine today, and letting him know to never give up."

He's just 7 years old, but he's already experienced more pain and disappointment than most do in a lifetime.

WALKER, MICH. - Be ready to raise your right hand.

Everyone who joins an arm of the United States armed forces has one thing in common. Each person must be sworn in by repeating the officer’s Oath, which every service member must adhere to for his/her entire military career. Military members who take the Oath are defending the Constitution of the United States, and not one particular person.

The Oath of Enlistment (for enlisted):

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

“There’s no job greater than being a soldier,” said U.S. Army SPC Larry Harris. “When I took the Oath, I swore to protect domestic and non-domestic, and when I say that, I’m not always talking about going to war, or hand-to-hand combat, I’m also protecting the dream of a child as well.”

The child, whose dream SPC Harris is trying to protect, is 7-year-old Xzayvier Buchard-Mease.

In September, SPC Harris was doing some community work in a west-side Grand Rapids neighborhood, spending time in single-family homes and talking to kids, when he ran into Xzayvier and his parents on a sidewalk.

“I was wearing my Army uniform, and I remember how awestruck Xzayvier was, and how much he said he wanted to one day become a soldier,” said SPC Harris. “Xzayvier asked me to wait outside, while he went into his house and brought out a ‘Build-a-Bear’ [stuffed animal bear] that was wearing an Army camouflage outfit, very similar to the one I was wearing at that moment.

“That’s when he told me he his life’s dream is to become a soldier, but due to his leg deformity, he’ll never be able to. Most kids say they want to become something one day, then two weeks later, they’ve decided upon some other career path, but I could tell by looking into Xzayvier’s eyes, I knew this was something he had a high level of motivation to do.”

Xzayvier’s parents, Christine Buchard and Andrew Mease, began telling SPC Harris about the physical handicap that has crippled their son since birth.

“Xzayvier has a rare knee deformity called ‘Flexion Contracture,’” said Christine, Xzayvier’s mother. “Basically, his right leg has remained bent at the knee since he was born.

“Doctors told me when he was an infant that he would have issues with his leg later in life but, at that time, we weren’t aware of the extent of the issues.”

Christine says Xzayvier’s leg started hurting him when he was 2 years old. By the time he turned 5, the family had received the diagnosis, and the only treatment plan was for Xzayvier to undergo several surgeries. He’s had a total of five surgeries since his diagnosis, but none of them have worked in helping straighten his right leg. Surgeons broke his femur bone twice during two of his surgical procedures.

Christine says the most recent surgery made Xzayvier’s leg worse.

“His right leg is no longer growing because his growth plate was damaged,” added Christine. “There's a good chance his leg will need to be amputated in the spring of 2017.”

Amputation isn’t a reality most 7-year olds have to face, but this is the case for Xzayvier.

“Xzayvier looked at me one day and said, ‘mom, can I have your leg,’” said Christine. “I told him that I’d trade legs with him if I could.”

Learning Xzayvier’s heart-wrenching backstory, after hearing him express his deep desire to become a soldier, got SPC Harris wondering if there was anything he could do for him.

I viewed it from a military point of view,” said SPC Harris. “We have veterans that have been in war combat, and really need our help.

“This young man came up to me, and expressed his hopes and dreams. I decided that with all my power, I was going to help him.

“I wouldn’t be a soldier if I didn’t help him.”

SPC Harris began coordinating a day that Xzayvier and his family would never forget. The event involved commitments and contributions from the United States Army Reserves, Michigan State Police, Walker City Police and several Grand Rapids city officials and dignitaries.

Harris began planning the event in late September. He kept Xzayvier’s parents looped in to every detail, but wanted to make sure Xzayvier knew nothing so the day would remain a complete surprise to him.

On Friday, Oct. 14, several law enforcement vehicles and Army Humvees departed from the Army Reserve Center in Walker. The string of vehicles was making the short trip to Stocking Elementary School, where Xzayvier was in his classroom.

It was about 2:30 p.m. when vehicles rolled up to the front of the school and parked. SPC Harris, wearing his Army camouflage, hopped out of one of the Humvees and entered the school. He was quickly escorted upstairs to Xzayvier’s classroom, where he slowly opened the door.

The look on Xzayvier’s face was priceless.

“What’s going on, man,” said SPC Harris. “Do you want to take a ride with me right now?”

Xzayvier said, “yes,” packed up his school supplies, grabbed his little walker, and left the classroom with SPC Harris.

As the two exited from the elevator, SPC Harris said, “I have a big surprise for you; are you ready for it?”

Xzayvier said he was ready, despite still being completely unaware of what was about to happen.

As the pair reached the door to exit the school, you could hear a group of people chanting, “Xzayvier; Xzayvier; Xzayvier.”

The door opened, and Xzayvier was greeted by hundreds of his fellow students lined up on both side of the sidewalk, as far as his little eyes could see, leading all the way to 7th Street.

The students cheered as SPC Harris ushered Xzayvier down the sidewalk. Once the pair reached the end, Xzayvier saw the first part of his surprise.

A real Army convoy was waiting for him.

SPC Harris helped Xzayvier into one of the Army vehicles, then the convoy began to move. The parade of vehicles drove along some back roads before reaching Alpine Avenue. Once traveling along Alpine Avenue, Xzayvier got to experience what it was like to get Presidential treatment, which involved having the right-of-passage through red lights and causing other vehicles on the road to pull off to the side and stop as a sign of respect.

“Even I have never had treatment like this,” SPC Harris said to Xzayvier, as the convoy made its final turn off 3 Mile Road into the parking lot of the Army Reserve Center.

This is where the second, and most important, part of SPC Harris’s surprise was about to unfold.

“We’re going to make Xzayvier an honorary soldier,” said SPC Harris.

Xzayvier exited the Army vehicle, grabbed his walker, and slowly made his way, along with several of his family members and friends, inside the Reserve Center, where several more Army and law enforcement personnel were awaiting him.

Xzayvier and his parents were ushered to front-row seats, and then a presentation began, led by LTC (R) Melvin Bauman.

“Over the past 40 years, I’ve had the honor of swearing in several soldiers, some of whom have gone on to become generals,” said LTC Bauman, as he stood at the podium, personally addressing Xzayvier. “I have never sworn in a young fellow your age, but it’s an honor to do it.”

LTC Bauman moved from behind the podium and made his way toward Xzayvier.

“Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” said LTC Bauman, as he began to ask Xzayvier to recite the Oath of Enlistment.

Xzayvier moved to the edge of his chair, raised his right hand, and repeated each line of the Oath LTC Bauman delivered.

The Oath concluded with Xzayvier repeating the final line of the Oath, which is, “according to regulations, to the uniform code, so help me God.”

“On this 14th day of October, you are now an honorary soldier,” LTC Bauman told Xzayvier.

The room full of people erupted in applause. LTC Bauman handed Xzayvier a certificate confirming him as an honorary soldier in the United States Army.

“I want to thank all of you for doing this for my son, letting him know that anything is possible, letting him shine today, and letting him know to never give up,” said Christine, as she emotionally addressed the crowd from the podium.

“There is hope for people like him out there. An event like this lets Xzayvier know to keep striving and keep fighting, and now he knows he’s not alone. He now knows that there are people outside who care.”

Through her tears, Christine turned and looked directly at Xzayvier sitting in the front row and said, “I love you Xzayvier; you can conquer anything, and this shows you that; never give up baby, okay?”

Xzayvier was looking directly at his mother, and with a tear slowly rolling down his cheek, he nodded in agreement.

SPC Harris then walked over to where Xzayvier is sitting, shook the young man’s hand and said, “welcome aboard.”

For this Army Reservist, pulling off this event and making Xzayvier’s dream come true is "mission accomplished."

“I’m just thankful and honored that the family opened up to me that day, telling me what was going on and actually allowed me to put this event together for them, said SPC Harris.

“Today, I became a soldier,” said Xzayvier. “It’s something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Medicaid has covered all of Xzayvier’s medical expenses since his diagnosis in 2013. The Grand Rapids chapter of the American Legion, a United States Veterans Association, has stepped in and helped Xzayvier’s family make contact with Shriners Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Xzayvier will be traveling to Shriners on Nov. 18 for a second opinion on his leg.

All expenses for this evaluation will be paid for by Shriners.

Unless further testing is needed, Xzayvier and his family will find out on the 18th whether or not amputation will be necessary.

If you know of a story that would make for a good segment of “Our Michigan Life,” send an email to: life@wzzm13.com

“Our Michigan Life” airs weeknights at 6 on WZZM 13 News.

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