FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Adam Crider, 9, wote a letter to the troops last year that ended up in Afghanistan in the hands of Lt. Col. Scott Gerblick, in which the boy wrote, "You and every other Army man, dead or alive, are the biggest heroes we know."
Gerblick, the former commander of 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade and now deputy commander of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, felt that in reading Adam's letter, he had found an even bigger hero named Adam Crider.
Adam's letter read in part, "Hi. I'm Adam. I have cancer but life goes on... But you don't need to worry about that... You fight on and never give up. You can do it soldier."
Gerblick wrote back, telling Adam, "I am sorry to hear about your cancer, and I want to make you a deal - if you keep fighting your cancer, I'll keep fighting the bad guys over here, and when I get home in February, I'll take you flying in a helicopter flight simulator at Fort Campbell."
On Tuesday morning, Gerblick made good on that promise.
He met the Crider family and together with his wife, Terry Gerblick, brought them to the building that houses the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter simulators. Once there, Adam and his 13-year-old brother Kody, together with their parents, Sue and Ken Crider, were treated to a quick class on what makes helicopters fly, given by training instructor Charles Cook.
With that done, Cook and Gerblick took Adam up to a simulator perched high above the floor and led him inside a world of green-lit splendor, strapping him in and teaching him how to use the controls. He was actually going to get a chance at the joystick of the best video game he had ever seen.
The windows of the simulator presented him with a picture of the Campbell Army Airfield flight line, so realistic that it seemed to actually be right outside. A few minutes later, he was flying, with a look of pure joy that exceeded the smile his father Ken said is a nearly permanent fixture of a young man whose spirit never wavered through an ordeal no parent or child would ever want to contemplate.
"We broke down"
The Crider family ordeal began at their home in Gallatin on Christmas Eve of 2010, according to Adam's father, Ken.
Adam was white as a ghost that night and not feeling well. The fever began on Christmas Day. The day after Christmas, the fever hit 103 degrees and the family took Adam to the hospital.
There, a surgeon removed a 7 1/2 inch mass of tumor from Adam's chest. Going in to see the parents, the surgeon sat down with them and broke the news that the tumor was malignant. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I have another surgery." With that, he got up, turned and left.
"We just broke down," said Ken.
Coming home was itself an ordeal. "You come home with all this Christmas stuff still all over the floor, the Legos and everything else," said Ken. "You thought it was a normal day, and then everything changes."
Forty-eight hours later, the Criders had the diagnosis. The cancer was a T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, a non-Hodgkins type of cancer that is rare in children.
The family began their fight then and there. The first seven months were hard-core chemotherapy that ended last July. The doctors were amazed at Adam's progress. Everyone was amazed at the boy's attitude. Said Ken, "everything since the original diagnosis was as good as we could have expected.
"Adam's starting to get back to what a boy should be able to do. He's playing flag football, and we just signed him up for baseball."
Looking at Adam, the most striking feature is the smile. He won an award for it at his Hendersonville school, Jack Anderson Elementary, and no wonder.
Adam still endures Friday chemotherapy and drug treatments that make him violently ill on Saturdays. On those days, the smile wavers a bit, said Ken. With luck, the treatments end on Jan. 1, 2013.
The letter from Lt. Col. Gerbleick, completely unexpected, has been a huge lift since the day it arrived.
Adam's reaction to the letter was "youthful exuberance," according to Ken. "His grin was expanded by half an inch both ways; that's the best way to put it." As he said it, Adam's dad was smiling pretty wide himself.
In the next room, in the simulator, there was no cancer, no chemotherapy and no worries. Adam flew around a virtual Fort Campbell and then, as an extra treat, the young Broncos fan flew over the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Adam, a man of few words, gave an after-action review as he stepped out of the cockpit to give brother Kody a turn.
How was it? "That was fun." Did you get airsick? "No." Did you feel like you were really flying? "Yes."
The smile, lighting up the cavernous room like a spotlight, said everything else that needed saying.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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