TOPEKA, Kansas - Seth Cummings, a junior from Topeka West High School, recently had the chance few of his age get to do: to pull the tail on a Paladin M10946 155mm Artillery System on March 24.
Pulling the tail involves hooking a rope to the firing mechanism on the gun after the weapon is primed and loaded, and yanking the cord. The projectile that was launched from the Paladin hit the target with accuracy approximately 20 miles away. After the crew fired the three rounds, there was still time to pose for a photo outside of the weapon.
Though, the first round definitely surprised him by its sheer force. Seth says that pulling the tail was extremely satisfying. "Explosions are always cool," he said.
Seth, a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, suffers from stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue type of cancer found most commonly in older children and teens.
"We want to make as many memories as we can," said Heather Cummings, Seth's mother, "putting a flag in the Earth saying 'Seth was here.'"
The chance to fire the Paladin was one of three wishes expressed by Cummings. Those wishes reached Capt. Benjamin Moore of the Kansas Army National Guard, who assisted in the planning of the Paladin event and two others.
"My mission is to support you and make sure you get your desired outcome," Moore told Seth. "How can I help with your goals?"
Cummings was also offered a chance to shoot an M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, an armored personnel carrier used by the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas. After the shots were fired from the Bradley's 25mm M242 chain gun, Master Sgt. Timothy Buchhorn, master gunner, presented Cummings with a shell casing of the rounds that he fired.
Seth’s final wish granted was to take a flight aboard a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. This wish was granted on March 30 by the Kansas Army National Guard 1st Battalion 108th Aviation Regiment, headquartered in Topeka. Seth flew with pilots Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bodie Miller and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Mathew Osborne and Spc. Kolton Carbon, the flight's crew chief.
"Seth had lots of questions and what we do and how we do it," said Carbon. "We did our best to answer them and I am pretty sure that he wasn't able to stump us on anything."
The flight took him on a trip around Topeka, where he was able to see his house and experience what it was like to fly aboard a military aircraft.
"The flight was awesome," he said, "I finally got a ride in a military helicopter."
"I am very grateful for everything the Kansas National Guard has done for me," Seth said, "and all the support that I have been given."