MAINZ, Germany — Ten-year-old Lukas sat upright as Pfc. Ali Ruble handed him a shiny white Dodge Viper model car.
“This is cool!” exclaimed Lukas, whose smile lit up the sterile surroundings of his hospital room.
Ruble, with the 24th Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th MI Brigade, was among seven American troops who delivered holiday cheer Thursday to patients at the Children’s Cancer Clinic at the University of Mainz.
The soldiers, with Wiesbaden’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, handed out gifts, candy and cards to show the children that they’re not forgotten during the holidays.
The gifts brought smiles and enthusiasmn.
Leonie, 9, couldn’t wait to play with her Barbie doll and gestured for her mother to help her unwrap it. The girl set aside the Rudolph bag full of candy to explore later, after serious play time was over.
“She loves Barbie; she’s happy,” said Carmen Merwitz, Leonie’s mother. “It’s a great honor for us that American soldiers visit the children here.”
Five-year-old Lavina smiled shyly as she paused from taking a lap around the clinic, her IV bags attached, to grab her gift, which was a pink purse with a stuffed poodle coming out of the top.
Sgt. Nicholas Titman, with U.S. Army Europe headquarters, said it was rewarding to give the children a toy and see them smile. He explained that the three tiers of the BOSS program are quality of life, recreation and community service, adding that he couldn’t think of a better way to exemplify community service than Thursday’s event.
“Just to be a part of their Christmas holiday and let them know we’re thinking of them and all they’re going through,” said Titman.
One soldier saw a lot of herself in the children as she went from room to room lugging a giant red sack bearing Santa’s image.
“I had cancer when I was a kid, so it’s my passion,” said Spc. Le Anna Chilcott, with the 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th MI Brigade.
Chilcott, who said she was once given a 40 percent chance of surviving, recalled spending her 16th birthday in the hospital while her friends were out cruising with the newfound freedom brought about by having a driver’s license.
Sgt. Cherita Young said being a parent made the visit more special, especially around the holidays.
“If my daughter was in the hospital, I would want someone to come see her,” said Young, with the 529th Military Police Company.
Any language barrier between the American troops and German children didn’t seem to pose any difficulties.
Whether it was a model car, doll, purse, coloring book or other gifts the children received Thursday, there was usually a sign of appreciation and understanding from both the giver and receiver.
“A smile is universal,” Chilcott said.