Touching tribute to murdered soldier Narel Sharpe by former comrades
He dreamed of being a soldier from the moment he could walk and talk.
And by the time he was 16, Narel Sharpe had made that dream a reality.
"He would stand to attention and salute as a four-year-old," remembers his proud mother Gayle, with a little laugh.
"He would always watch war films. He had an uncle who was a soldier and he used to talk to him about the Army, and his interest just grew and grew."
Narel, from Smethwick, joined the Queen's Royal Hussars – the Army's senior armoured tank regiment – and as a trooper he completed tours in Iraq and Kosovo.
"The Army was recruiting in town and he was so excited," said Gayle.
"He spoke to them and was inspired. He came home and told me 'when I leave school I'm going to join the Army'."
"At 16 he left school and he signed up. He went for the entrance tests and phoned me and said 'I passed. I beat them all. I was the fittest and the strongest'. He was so happy."
Life in the Forces took Narel to Canada, Poland, Croatia, and Sennelager in Germany, where he was based.
"The first time he came back on leave he told me he just loved it," said Gayle.
"He said, 'mum, the Army is like a family – I love them'.
"And he also told me, 'mum I will never regret choosing this career'.
"He did so well."
But Narel's flourishing military career was tragically cut short in September 2004 when he was shot dead.
His killer was not an enemy insurgent, but a callous and cowardly mugger who targeted him for his gold chain in Smethwick while he was home on leave to celebrate his 21st birthday.
Levi Walker was convicted in 2006 and jailed for life with a minimum 30-year term.
On Remembrance Sunday, 11 comrades from the Queen's Royal Hussars attended a service at the House of Praise Ministry at Smethwick Baptist Church, paid tribute to him at his grave at Uplands Cemetery, and visited the street named after Narel in the town.
For the past three years the brothers-in-arms have made the pilgrimage to honour their friend.
At his graveside they played music, shared a drink and fond memories with Gayle and Narel's brother Julian.
Former Corporal Jason Robinson, 33, of Peterlee, County Durham, who served alongside Narel, remembered fondly: "He was a really chilled guy. He was so chilled he was horizontal. He was a great friend and was known for his ability to sleep through anything.
"He even managed to fall asleep in a Challenger 2 tank.
"And he managed to hit the only tree in miles while operating a tank on a training exercise in Alberta, Canada.
"He was a big Gooner (Arsenal fan) and loved playing FIFA on the X-Box.
"He also enjoyed a drink and a laugh. He is sorely missed by all of us but never forgotten."
Gayle, 53, a nurse at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, said: "I was really touched when they told me they would come and meet together to celebrate Narel's life.
"I love these guys so much – they give me so much support.
"They give me strength and we can always pick up the phone."
Mr Robinson added: "She's mum to all of us. When Narel was killed she inherited another 15 or so sons."
While visiting Narel Sharpe Close, near Smethwick Galton Bridge railway station, Gayle spoke about how Narel wanted to make a difference in the town.
She said: "When he came home he used to take all the children in the community and play football with them. He said when he left the Army he wanted to start a youth centre and a gym for all the kids. He said when he came back he saw the children with nothing to do and wanted to get them off the street and he wanted to be a mentor."
Earlier this year, Levi Walker won a £50,000 payout while still behind bars after police botched the prosecution of his alleged involvement in the 2002 Kevin Nunes murder case in Staffordshire.
Gayle believes it is wrong that he received the money but remaining extremely dignified, she said: "I have nothing to say other than just look at us. My son is so loved. He is not a victim, the coward who did this to him is the victim. My son is with us by the presence of his friends, family and everyone who has supported him.
"I want him (Walker) to see this. My son is still well loved."
Those who attended from the Queen's Royal Hussars were:
Adam Ray, 33, Sutton Coldfield
Chris Gray, 35, West Yorkshire
David Collins, 35, Belfast,
Ryan Williams, 33, Redditch
Alex Pampols, 31, Hollywood, Worcestershire,
Jason Robinson, 33, Peterlee
Ray Flynn, 36, Redditch
Steve Keay, 33, Telford
Lee Thompson, 37, Mid-Wales
Nathan Jackson, 34, Chelmsley Wood
Jason Furness, 33, Redditch