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Meant to be a soldier

When a freak eye injury impaired Dane Balcon’s vision, he feared that his lifelong dream to become a soldier had vanished. But following surgery, Balcon’s vision returned to near normal, and a few months later he joined the U.S. Army. Doctors called his restored vision a miracle. Balcon’s mom, U.S. Air Force Capt. Carla Sizer, said she believes her son’s recovery resulted from a deal he made with God.“I think Dane said to God, ‘Just fix my eye so I can join the military and earn my combat patch,'” Sizer said. “And I think God told Dane, ‘You’ll have to pay up later.'”Balcon, at age 19, earned his combat patch, along with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and numerous other medals and rewards. His payback devastated friends and family. He died Sept. 5 from wounds inflicted when an improvised explosive device went off in Balad. He had been stationed with the U.S. Army in Iraq just days shy of two months.The Sunday before Balcon’s funeral Sept. 14, Sizer said she had a dream outlining the deal between her son and God. “Dane knew his day was going to come – to Dane, your word is your bond,” she said. “I know now that God’s been preparing me for two years. There were many signs.”As Balcon, a member of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, prepared with his unit for deployment to Iraq, he called his mom and told her he wanted to come home on leave to Falcon before he deployed. “I told him he had just left, and he needed to save his money,” Sizer said. But her son insisted.”It’s the last time I saw my kid.”When he returned to Fort Hood from leave, Balcon’s sergeant held him back from the unit’s first deployment. Sizer said her son was anxious about staying behind. “I told him, ‘You should be grateful you’re not in Iraq, you’ll get your chance,'” she said. “But he said, ‘For every day I sit at Fort Hood, there’s a soldier that’s been there away from his family.'”Eventually, Balcon deployed to Iraq. Before he left, Sizer said he struggled with what he would do with his belongings. He decided to send everything to his mom. It was just another sign that “God was stepping in and moving our paths around,” Sizer said.Following Balcon’s death, Sizer said she somberly sifted through his belongings. “I found his Texas Longhorn hat,” she said. “He had written inside, ‘Death before dishonor. It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. I’m not afraid to die for my country.'”To Dane Balcon, it was all about serving his country.Balcon came from a military family. His mom is completing a doctorate while teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and his stepfather, Larry Sizer, also spent his career in the Air Force. Larry retired in 2005 and is currently employed at Peterson Air Force Base. “My dad served in Vietnam, my husband served in the Gulf War, and I was supporting operations at our bases,” Carla Sizer said. “The military is our life. This is the first death after four generations in the military.”Despite their military background, Balcon’s family tried to influence him in a different direction. He had been accepted at various Colorado institutions of higher education and opted to attend Pikes Peak Community College after he graduated from Sand Creek High School in 2006, Sizer said. But with only one semester under his belt, he wanted to join the Army.”We certainly did everything we could to discourage him,” Sizer said. “I work with 4,100 cadets, and we all have our own personal reasons for joining the military. Dane’s definite reason was to serve his country.”He was born to be a soldier.” A calling perpetuated from childhood.Sizer said she often took her young son to the Academy with her. When 7-year-old Dane admired a model airplane sitting on the desk of another Air Force officer, Sizer said the officer gave the airplane to Dane as a gift and then looked at Sizer and said, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it.”He didn’t.Later, Balcon became the commander of the drill team for the then-combined Junior ROTC programs at Sand Creek and Falcon high schools.After high school, he sported a tattoo – it read, “Soldier.”He had always wanted to get a tattoo, Sizer said. “We told him he had to wait until he was a grown man,” she said. “He always said he wanted to get a tattoo of Isaiah 6 and 8, his favorite Bible verses. But he came back with the word ‘soldier’ going down his right arm. I think the verse was tattooed in his heart.”Sizer said her son focused on achieving a combat patch. He felt the Army would be his best bet.Today, Sizer finds comfort knowing there was nothing she could do to stop him.”The only thing we didn’t do was chain him up,” she said. “If I would have begged him, he would have resented me the rest of his life. He wanted to be with the soldiers.”And I know he would do it again, even if he knew the fate and the outcome.”Besides his mother and stepfather, Dane Balcon is survived by his two younger brothers, 5-year-old Grant and 21-month-old Quinn; his father, John Balcon and stepbrothers and stepsisters; and his grandparents: retired Sgt. Stephen Thomas and his wife, Suzanne; Cynthia B. Thomas; Ernesto Balcon and his wife, Yvonne; Kathleen Sizer and Alexie Sizer.

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