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NEWS | May 29, 2014

Terminally ill Nevada Soldier gets surprise promotion

By Dylan Woolf Harris Courtesy of Elko (Nevada) Daily Free Press

ELKO, Nev. - When he joined the U.S. Army, James Chandler set a goal to reach the rank of captain - that was before he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Chandler joined in 2009 and serves as a combat engineer - often referred to as a "Sapper" - in the 609th Engineer Company of the Nevada Army National Guard.

But in September 2013, Chandler was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. He went through months of chemotherapy and radiation, but the treatment didn't kill the cancer and his condition deteriorated.

"I was hospitalized for a time. I died, but I just wasn't ready to leave the Earth yet," he said.

While at the hospital in Salt Lake City, members of his Nevada Army National Guard unit flew from Carson City to see him. During a visit, Chandler was promoted to first lieutenant.

Chandler recalls the moment fondly and said it provided a big boost. As the rain beat down and officers stood at the position of attention, Chandler had his old rank ripped off and he received his first lieutenant bars.

That was in October - the month Chandler associates with eating his last meal because of the worsening condition of his throat.

Army Capt. Brett Eklund asked Chandler if there was anything in his career that he wanted to accomplish.

"I said, 'Sir, I always wanted to make the rank of captain,'" Chandler said.

Realizing Chandler suffered from stage-four cancer, Eklund said the promotion would probably be a goal realized after death.

"I thought that would be neat. I wanted that," Chandler said of the posthumous honor.

But on May 22, the unexpected happened.

"All of a sudden, these people started showing up at the house," he said. Soldiers from his Army unit flew into Elko to spend time with Chandler and his family at his home.

In addition to Guard members, his daughters Michelle Chandler and Stephanie Chandler-Holden arrived, as well as his parents Karen Nedli and Bob and Rose Rogers. Sheriff Lt. Mike Silva, who is an Army sergeant, came to show his support, too.

During the visit, an officer declared there was a rank issue that needed to be resolved.

Less than a minute later, Chandler was sworn as an Army captain by Lt. Col. Wilson de Silva of the 17th Sustainment Brigade. Chandler embraced his wife, Susan, who he credited with organizing the surprise. In turn, she credited the officers.

"It worked out really well. It was a beautiful day," she said.

After the promotion, everyone went to Sergio's for lunch, then visited students at Northside Elementary, where their son, Hunter, goes to school.

"The kids loved it," Susan Chandler said.

In April, James Chandler had to step down from volunteer and work positions, including coaching Little League and working as a police officer with the Western Shoshone Department of Public Safety.

Police Chief Larry Robb said Chandler was an exemplary cop.

"His word is his bond," Robb said. "(He's) a rare breed. He was very good at engaging the community - just an all around top-notch person and very easy to supervise."

Robb described Chandler as dependable and a great mentor to youth in the community.

"He's just an outstanding public servant," he said.

James and Susan Chandler said the amount of care and concern they and their family received from the Nevada Army National Guard - from enlisted soldiers to highly-ranked officers - has been astonishing.

He's seen the other Soldiers receive support in various ways, including the passing around of a coffee can for donations during a drill to help pay for a child's surgery.

"By the end of a drill, they won't be down a couple thousand, they'll be up a couple thousand," he said.

"I'll tell you, the Army is about as close-knit a family you could have," he added. "From top to bottom."