Facebook plea draws crowd of helpers for dying Fort Bragg soldier
One by one, the soldiers lined up Friday to say goodbye to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles Petrie.
Each of them offered Petrie a handshake, a hug and words of encouragement. "We came out here for you, chief," one soldier said.
Most of them didn't know Petrie. But they showed up after seeing a request on Facebook the night before - a call to help Petrie get his family moved into a new house before time runs out.
Petrie is dying.
"About 13 months ago, I was diagnosed with maxillary sinus sarcoma," said Petrie, who is 47. "It's the rarest cancer in the rarest place."
The cancer is inoperable, he said, and his only option was radiation. He did seven weeks of the treatment about a year ago.
"It reduced the mass and bought me all kinds of time," he said, but the tumor has started growing again. "It's coming back to no medical options anymore."
The family had lived in Fayetteville for 10 years early in Petrie's career, before he was sent overseas piloting Huey and Blackhawk helicopters.
They returned to Fort Bragg about two years ago, when Petrie went to work for Forces Command, where he is a special assistant to the commanding general. The family rented a home near Cross Creek Mall.
But Petrie wanted to ensure that his wife, Terri, and their children were in a manageable home in a community where she can put down roots after he's gone. They bought a house on Bromsworth Trail in the Country Club North neighborhood and began preparing for the move. Petrie is physically unable to help, but he had four or five friends who gave a hand moving furniture earlier in the week.
Sgt. 1st Class Nakischa Adams, the platoon sergeant for the Warrior Transition Battalion, knew what the family was facing. She put out the call Thursday evening on Facebook.
200 phone calls
The response was overwhelming, she said. Within two hours, her post had been viewed 2,000 times and garnered 600 comments.
Adams fielded more than 200 phone calls from people willing to help.
Friday morning, about 40 soldiers showed up at the Petries' new home to help unload boxes. They did in an hour what would have taken a day with only a few friends and family, Petrie said.
And when their work on Bromsworth Trail was done, some of them went to the Petries' old house to help clean and pack up the last of their belongings.
"It's just amazing," Terri Petrie said. "It's just a blessing. This year has been hard, and to have complete strangers help ... . The military has always done for others, but just to see the outpouring is amazing."
At Bromsworth Trail, Petrie said goodbye to the soldiers. He was too overcome with emotion to speak for several minutes.
"I was going to have four or five guys over here unloading boxes and I got 40 guys or however many," Petrie said.
As he sat on the couch in his new home, Petrie searched for the words to describe his feelings.
"I just don't feel worthy of it," Petrie said softly. "They are soldiers, and that's a pretty powerful thing."