FORT POLK, La. -- Typically, an 8-year-old cannot enlist in the Army and then immediately pin four stars.
But that is exactly what took place March 1 on Fort Polk. Drake Quibodeaux, a youngster suffering from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DPIG), a non-operable brain tumor, was given the oath of enlistment and the rank of general, complete with his own uniform, during a ceremony at the installation's Warrior Memorial Park.
Drake, accompanied by his family, friends, fellow Soldiers and Fort Polk leadership was given a tour of the post including demonstrations by 519th Military Police Battalion, Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department, a meal in the Guardian Inn Dining Facility and a visit to 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, where Drake pulled the lanyard to fire one of the unit's big guns.
Gen. Drake finished his day-long visit with a briefing from Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Commanding General Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank.
Frank had his staff brief Drake on his Army's capabilities, and then asked if everything met his approval. Drake responded with a thumbs-up.
DPIG impacts bodily functions such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, eye movement, eyesight and balance. While radiation can shrink the tumor, a child diagnosed with DIPG today faces the same prognosis as a child diagnosed 40 years ago. There is still no effective treatment and no chance of survival.
The Quibodeaux family was told by doctors that only 5 percent of children with DIPG survive for a year following their diagnosis, and less than 1 percent survive for 2 years. The median survival time is 9 months from diagnosis. Drake will soon pass the year mark from his diagnosis in March 2018 and is currently on hospice.
Children with DIPG commonly experience double vision, reduced eye movement, facial weakness or asymmetry, and arm and leg weakness. They also have problems with walking, coordination, speech, chewing and swallowing. As the tumor progresses, it also interferes with breathing and heartbeat, which ultimately results in the child's death.
Drake's mother, Danielle Quibodeaux, told those gathered for the enlistment ceremony how they learned of Drake's cancer.
"Just imagine your healthy son one day driving a boat, he has seizures, he becomes paralyzed for six weeks, and then being told by the doctor, 'Just go home and make memories, there's no hope,'" she said. "That's what we're living right now. The doctors in New Orleans said, 'Just go home. There's no sense in trying anything.'"
As for how Fort Polk entered Drake's life, Danielle said it was through a Soldier stationed in Korea who read Drake's story online, and then told Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson, Fort Polk garrison command sergeant major, about his plight and Drake's request to have 190 Christmas cards sent to him.
Dodson reached out to the Quibodeaux family. On Dec. 19, Dodson, along with his spouse, Kim, and Cpl. Devon Douglas, president of Fort Polk's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, made the two-hour trip to the Quibodeaux home in Vinton, Louisiana, bearing Christmas cards and presents from the Fort Polk Family.
During the visit, it was learned that Drake's dad, Christopher, had been stationed at Fort Polk and assigned to 5th Bn, 25th FA Reg. A bond developed between the Quibodeaux and Fort Polk Families resulting in the March 1 visit.
Christopher said he's grateful to Fort Polk for opening its arms to Drake and the entire Quibodeaux family.
"When they dropped the uniform off to us yesterday it brought back a lot of memories," he said. "Here I get a chance to make memories with my son, and some of my old Army buddies from back in the day have posted they wish they could be here to share this day with us. They think it's amazing.
"It means a lot. It's something I'll be able to cherish. It means a lot for Fort Polk to open its doors to us. They were caring."
On Jan. 25 the Quibodeauxs learned Drake's tumor had begun growing in a new area. It meant more radiation.
"Unfortunately, that's all they can do for us at this time," Danielle said. "We're on hospice now, so today is probably the last major thing we'll be doing. We're going to make the best of every day. This is something we couldn't do for Drake by ourselves, and now he's a four-star general. "No words can describe the experience or the memories that are going to be made today."
Danielle said it's days like the one spent at Fort Polk that help the family get through the tough times.
"The last couple of days Drake hasn't been able to move off the couch," she said. "He's been very nauseous and pretty much unresponsive. We called hospice and adjusted his meds. We need days like this to get through the hard days."
For her part, Danielle said she tries not to show her emotions in front of Drake.
"I don't cry in front of Drake," she said. "I'll tell him I'm going to take a bath. Dad cries all the time."
Christopher said he's not shy about hiding his tears.
"I don't hold it back," he said. "If he has questions, I'll tell him. We don't keep him out of the loop. Whatever he chooses to do, we'll do. He's strong. I told him I'd never leave him."
Danielle said the hardest part for her is realizing that Drake doesn't understand what's happening to his body.
"Three nights ago Drake said, 'Mom, I can't see out of my eye anymore,'" she said. "He cried. He doesn't understand, and for us that's the hardest. With DIPG, he'll still have his mental capabilities intact, but he'll lose his bodily functions, so you know he's frustrated. Sometimes he'll get so mad because even we can't understand him, and that's when we all cry. That's so hard."
Drake's older brother, Haiydn, said he struggles with his brother's suffering. "But I believe he's going to pull through it, I have faith that he will," he said. "That's all I can go on. The most difficult part has been realizing I'm not able to play with him like an older brother anymore. But I'm 16. I'm strong. I can handle it."
Although the prognosis for Drake is bleak, the family's faith is strong and they aren't ready to quit.
"We're going home and we're going to fight this," Christopher said. "We're not going to let this thing beat us. At the end of the day he's fought so hard. We're not going to live in a box. We're going to live life to the fullest while we can."
Danielle said they've learned to rely on faith, family and friends.
"And Drake," she added. "He asks us, 'Why are ya'll crying. I'm OK. God's got me. We'll get through this. When we're weak, there is always someone there to hold us."