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Local club raises more than $4K for Soldier diagnosed with cancer

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- From left to right retired Master Sgt. Arturo S. Jiminez, retired Master Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, Tech Sgt. James M. Lawson, maintenance analyst with the 55th Maintenance Squadron, Spc. Ashton Wallace, a masonary specialist with the Army National Guard, James M. Whitmire, 55th Force Support Squadron facility maintenance manager and president of the Bellevue chapter of the American Veterans Motorcycle Club, and Jayson Rayas pose for a photo outside the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic here May 13. Mr. Jiminez, Mr. Mulligan, Sergeant Lawson, Mr. Whitmire and Mr. Rayas all participated in a poker-run fundraiser for Specialist Wallace. The group raised more than $4K for Specialist Wallace who was recently diagnosed with cancer. U.S. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- From left to right retired Master Sgt. Arturo S. Jiminez, retired Master Sgt. Chuck Mulligan, Tech Sgt. James M. Lawson, maintenance analyst with the 55th Maintenance Squadron, Spc. Ashton Wallace, a masonary specialist with the Army National Guard, James M. Whitmire, 55th Force Support Squadron facility maintenance manager and president of the Bellevue chapter of the American Veterans Motorcycle Club, and Jayson Rayas pose for a photo outside the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic here May 13. Mr. Jiminez, Mr. Mulligan, Sergeant Lawson, Mr. Whitmire and Mr. Rayas all participated in a poker-run fundraiser for Specialist Wallace. The group raised more than $4K for Specialist Wallace who was recently diagnosed with cancer. U.S. Air Force photo by Charles Haymond

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- He entered the world on a military base in Hawaii. He grew up traveling from base to base as his father was a member of the Air Force for more than 20 years. In 2006, he raised his right hand and swore an oath to defend America; because he wanted to continue his family tradition. He wanted to serve his country and help keep its people safe. 

Spc. Ashton Wallace, a carpentry masonary specialist with the Army National Guard, discovered a painful cist on his left foot in 2007 while he was going through Advanced Individual Training in Mississippi. He was placed on a profile, given medication and over time the cist went away. 

However, a year later the cist returned, and this time it was even more painful. When Specialist Wallace went to the hospital he heard something he never thought he'd hear someone say, especially at 23- years of age; "you have cancer." 

Specialist Wallace was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing Sarcoma. The cancer was located between his third and fourth toe. After chemotherapy failed to remove the cancer, doctors informed him that chemotherapy may actually advance the disease. Faced with this harsh reality, he decided to have a portion of his left foot removed. 

Today he sits at a conference table at the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic surrounded by friends. On his cell phone are images of what his foot looks like. He looks up from his phone, smiles and explains his ordeal; as well as his desire to continue serving in the U.S. Army. 

"The doctors told me that removing part of my left foot was the best option to remove the cancer, and it also gave me the best chance to walk again," Specialist Wallace said. 

"This has been a challenging ordeal, I had to go through chemotherapy Monday through Friday, eight hours a day every other week," he continued, "I've been to four different hospitals, because of my kidneys failing and throat closing, I also had to have weekly blood level checks; it wasn't fun." 

After all he's been through Specialist Wallace said he still wants to serve in the Army. 

"If they let me stay in...I still want to serve," he said, "I haven't finished what I started, this is a little bump in the road, I'll still be able to walk, I'll have to learn to run, but this isn't going to stop me, I love putting on my uniform and I love serving with the guys in my unit...it's a family." 

Recently, an organization known as the American Veterans Motorcycle Club learned of Specialist Wallace's plight and put together a poker-run on his behalf. A poker-run is a road trip made up of bikers, who pay a small entrance fee. All funds collected go to whoever the club is putting the poker-run together for. The run consists of five stops. At each stop, participants receive cards and gain points. Whoever has the most points at the last stop is declared the winner. 

With Specialist Wallace's benefit run, the AVMC raised $4,452. Something he said he greatly appreciates. 

"It feels great knowing there are people out there who understand what you're going through and they try to help in any way they can," he said, "I've been out of work since December 15, 2008, so the money will help pay my bills." 

James M. Whitmire, 55th Force Support Squadron facility maintenance manager, and the president of the Bellevue chapter of the AVMC, said raising money for servicemembers in need is the right thing to do. 

"If we can raise some money to help servicemembers and veterans who are going through a difficult time, help them get their minds off their bills or raise their spirits, then why not?" Mr. Whitmire said. "Even if it lifts their spirits for a day that's good for me," he added. 

Helping veterans and servicemembers in need is something the Bellevue chapter of the AVMC has been doing for the past four years. With their first poker-run they raised more than $2,000 for one of their fellow members, who died three months after he was diagnosed with cancer. Their next poker-run raised $1,600 for another one of their members, whose grandmother was also battling cancer. 

Retired Master Sgt. Arturo S. Jiminez, a member of the AVMC for the past five years, said the club is all about helping others. 

"We take care of our veterans and their families and we also help military members as much as we can," Mr. Jiminez said. "It feels good to help someone else," he added. 
"We've all been in a situation where we've had to handle a crisis in one form or another and it's good to know that we played a positive part in someone's life." 

For more information about the AVMC, visit their Web site at www.avmcbellevue.com

Specialist Wallace leans back in his chair, smiles at his friends and proclaims to everyone in the room that one day he will participate in a poker-run. That day may be far away, but Specialist Wallace is determined to make it happen.