Mark Kelly Olson, the 10-year-old son of Aerospace Testing Alliance operations controller Mark Olson, dons a customized fire helmet he received from the Arnold Air Force Base Fire Department, showing his honorary title as a “true hero,” at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. Arnold Engineering Development Complex Fire Department Chief Daryle Lopes and Fire Chief Kip Luttrell spearheaded the effort to rally moral support for Mark since learning that he had been diagnosed with very high risk acute lymphocytic leukemia earlier in the year. (Photo provided)
Arnold Engineering Development Center fire department personnel put their crew patches together on a black background for a high resolution photograph used to make a poster to provide moral support to Mark Kelly Olson, a 10-year-old boy battling cancer at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Rick Goodfriend)
by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold Engineering Development Complex
12/12/2012 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. (AFNS) -- When Daryle Lopes, the Arnold Engineering Development Complex Fire Department Chief, sent an email out to the worldwide fire protection community seeking moral support for a young man battling cancer, the response he received exceeded his expectations.
Mark Kelly Olson is a 10-year-old boy who was diagnosed with very high-risk, acute lymphocytic leukemia in May and was later adopted by the Arnold Air Force Base Fire Department as their new deputy fire chief. Olson is the son of Mark Olson, an Aerospace Testing Alliance operations controller at AEDC.
"My wife and I are grateful for the outpouring of support for our son, who is also very appreciative," Olson said. "This experience reminds us of our time serving in the Navy, where your 'extended' family is always around to support you during both the good times and the challenges we all face."
"Fellow chiefs and firefighters -- We have an outstanding opportunity to support a fellow firefighter and a true hero in the true spirit of the holiday season," Chief Lopes addressed firefighters online. "Please post a picture of your fire department patch and a few words of encouragement on the Facebook page at Go Team Mark Kelly, at www.facebookcom/TeamMarkKelly."
Lopes, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, said, "The response we got was overwhelming, not just from local departments, but from firefighters around the world, including Air Force, Department of Defense, civilian and volunteer fire departments from everywhere imaginable."
Kip Luttrell, an AEDC fire crew chief said the one word that comes to mind is family.
"This is really all about being a family, about ministering to someone who is challenged but not defeated by a physical illness," he said. "I worked with his dad in construction prior to coming to work at AEDC and his son, Mark Kelly, was on the soccer team that I coached.
"Every time you get to visit with him or his family you feel like you're going to go help them, and they end up lifting you up."
Luttrell said he is the one who comes away encouraged and inspired by a bright and engaged young man who is literally playing a key role in tracking his own medical status and ensuring that the nurses are fully apprised of his health and treatment results.
"Mark Kelly has been bravely battling the cancer as well as a number of significant complications," Lopes said. "He is in and out of the hospital, fighting hard to get better, and he needs us to stand with him. By virtue of his heroic efforts, Mark Kelly has been adopted by the Arnold Air Force Base Fire Department and promoted to the rank of deputy fire chief. Everyone at Arnold Fire is proud of Mark Kelly. We are truly thankful to call such an awesome young man -- one of our own."