Once a month, Vermont members of the Army National Guard spend a long weekend in training. This weekend, an 18-year-old from Shoreham who has fought major illness multiple times tagged along.
The sound of explosions rang out from the Ethan Allen training site nestled in the hills of Jericho as guard units train for battle. But Saturday, a civilian called the shots.
Alex Dragon shelled a hill full of targets from a distance of four miles. Ear buds protected his hearing but the experience left him with few words. "I don't really know," he said when asked to describe the experience, "really awesome."
"These guys just opened themselves up to Alex, and it's hard for me to talk about but it's amazing," said Alex's mother April Desabrais.
Despite his desire, Alex will never be able to join the guard. He beat a brain tumor at the age of six, but last year, doctors diagnosed him with Leukemia - a cancer of the body's disease-fighting white blood cells. Alex tried fighting back with chemotherapy but the treatment put him into a coma.
"We're on quality of life," said Desabrais of dealing with her son's illness, "and this is one of the most amazing things. It's a memory and we're just building memories every day."
With the help of a seven man crew, both Alex and his mom fired several rounds from a 105mm Howitzer artillery piece and learned how the guard runs an operation.
"Felt like I got knocked over," said Alex of firing the massive ballistic weapon.
Before he left, Alex received official pins and keepsakes. Guard members say it's an honor to serve state and country and a privilege to serve beside Alex.
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