Never leave an Airman behind

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony J. Soupley, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments superintendent, salutes the casket of Airman 1st Class Chris Evans, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments student, at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Ga., December 18, 2014. Soupley escorted Evans to his home in California, where he was buried. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony J. Soupley, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments superintendent, salutes the casket of Airman 1st Class Chris Evans, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments student, at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Ga., December 18, 2014. Soupley escorted Evans to his home in California, where he was buried. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- “It happened pretty fast,” said Master Sgt. Anthony J. Soupley, 312th TRS Special Instruments superintendent. “He started saying he didn’t feel good, so we sent him to sick call. They thought it looked like a virus and thought it best to let it run its course.”

Airman 1st Class Chris Evans, 312th Training Squadron Special Instruments student, joined the Air Force as a special instruments technician and came to Goodfellow for tech school. Early on in the course however, he started feeling ill, that’s when Soupley had him go to sick call, which started a nine-month battle for Evans’s life.

“Another week goes by and we notice his grades are slipping,” said Soupley. “That’s when we got really concerned, so we pulled him aside and asked him what was going on and he said he still felt sick. We sent him to sick call another time and from there they sent him to the hospital down town to get x-rayed. They find the worst. A massive tumor in his chest. They send him down to San Antonio and they phone his parents and tell them they don’t know if he’s going to make the weekend and they fly the parents out and get him stabilized.”

Soupley and Lt. Col. Derek R. Ferland, 312th TRS commander, went down to visit Evans and keep the family company. There, they get the news.
“They inform us that he’s got stage IV leukemia and that huge tumor,” says Soupley. “They don’t know if he’s going to hold out.”

Over the next nine months, Evans rode the waves of getting better and feeling worse, but eventually he stabilized and showed vast signs of improvement. During those nine months, Soupley made trips to see Evans once or twice a month in San Antonio and he communicated with the parents regularly and stayed in the loop on Evans’s health. In the Air Force the saying, “Never leave an Airman behind,” is often heard, and Soupley made sure Evans was never forgotten at any point, staying with him and his family every step of the way.

Things looked up for Evans, a bone marrow donor was found he was getting the care he needed, but then Soupley got a phone call that Evans’s health was declining fast.

“They did a bone marrow transplant,” said Soupley. “They found a donor, in Europe, they actually flew someone in from Europe to do the transplant. The problem was, when you do a bone marrow transplant, the new immune system goes through the body and kills everything bad. Since this new immune system was so strong, it hit him harder than the doctor’s had ever imagined. It was a necessary evil that they anticipated, but it hit so hard his body couldn’t hold it.”

Soupley put his affairs in order and hopped in his car to make the drive to San Antonio, but before he could arrive, Airman 1st Class Chris Evans passed away December 14, 2014.

“When I got down there, he had already passed away,” said Soupley. “So, the mom, working with mortuary affairs, asks me if I could be the one to escort him out. I said yes.”

Soupley escorted Evans from the funeral home to Atlanta where the Delta Airlines honor guard welcomed them.

“They held a ceremony to get him off the plane,” said Soupley. “I stayed by his side from there and all the way to California where the family was meeting me.”

In California, at the funeral, Soupley and a few other Airmen from the 312th TRS, who had flown separately, spent a lot of time with the Evans family. Seeing that his mother lived alone, Soupley decided to help around the house. Soupley started with little things like electrical work, putting in a new sink and faucet, fixed the dryer and anything else that could use fixing.

Before leaving, Soupley, with the help of Ferland, got in contact with the 60th Civil Engineer commander at Travis Air Force Base to help with other things in her home.

“We had a fundraiser which gathered about $1,200 to donate to Travis AFB to help out,” said Soupley. “They painted the house, put up a new fence, and fixed things that would’ve cost thousands and thousands of dollars. She kept me posted throughout the whole thing.”

Teri Evans, Chris Evans’s mother, had originally planned to move out of the house, but now intends to stay with the renovations.

“My son was part of an organization that from day one has been so supportive," she said. "They held fundraisers and provided moral and emotional support. Now I can come home and see my house and it puts a smile on my face. When I saw all of the work they did, I couldn't believe it. It looked like a new house. I hugged each one of the Airmen and told them thank you. This has really been a blessing.”

Soupley stayed with the Evans the entire way of the journey. Never, at any point, was the Evans family forgotten by the Air Force. To the end, Soupley made sure they were taken care of.