LOCAL FAMILIES BEAR DEPLOYMENTS WITH MIXED EMOTIONS

Deployment USS Theodore Roosevelt planes helosEileen Brodmerkel reads the newspaper differently now than she once did. News that Iraq needs more American aid, stories about oil prices, and ISIS all point to increasing the number of U.S. troops sent to the Middle East. This is a concern keeping Brodmerkel on pins and needles because her son, Colin, is an Army Infantry Captain and he’s already been deployed to Afghanistan where he lost close friends in combat. She fears news like she’s reading today could mean her son will be deployed to the unstable region tomorrow.

“Colin is part of a well-rounded unit, both infantry and armor, and they’ve got a diversified skill set so I know if there’s a problem somewhere, he could be one of the first sent,” says Eileen.

Over the last ten years since her son joined the Army, she has developed an understanding of the region other parents don’t have. “I know where every province in Afghanistan is, I know where Bagram Air Base is, I know what the issues are, and if they add more troops, there’s a good chance Colin will be there,” added the former Bishop Luers High School Journalism teacher.

Eileen’s husband, Myron, also understands the military world his son belongs to, in a way others don’t. Myron can tell you there are five companies in a battalion, seven battalions in a brigade, and three brigades make up a division. Right now, Colin is in Colorado running his brigade’s headquarters staff while the division trains so they can keep their edge in case they get deployed.

“He was picked over more than 30 other captains,” says Myron. “He’s managing a lot of paperwork – not his favorite thing – but, it was a promotion he couldn’t turn down,” the proud father says of his son who grew up playing with toy soldiers making it clear to his parents he would one day be a leader of men.

Leading men in battle. And, losing friends. Friends like First Lieutenant Dimitri del Castillo.

Eileen Brodmerkel says it was near the end of June when she got a call from Colin telling her that he was fine, but he’d be out of touch for several weeks. “Colin told us he couldn’t tell us where he was going,” says Eileen of the phone call nearly four years ago. By June 25, 2011, coalition forces were fighting for the Watapur Valley in Nuristan Province. The details of the fight can be found in a study written by Ryan D. Wadle, a researcher at the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. As the men of Bravo Company were beginning to clear hostiles out of a village called Gambir, the first shots of enemy gun fire resonated in the jungle-like valley. Del Castillo was one of the first to fall, while Brodmerkel spent much of the battle pinned down by enemy fire with his men.

Eileen Brodmerkel remembers the phone call from Colin after the battle. “His next call, he was sobbing. His best friend died in the fight on an Afghani hillside, and we can’t do anything to help.”

Even worse, one morning she woke up with severe chest pains. Thinking it was a heart attack, Myron rushed her to St. Joseph Hospital’s Emergency Room. It wasn’t the heart attack she’d feared, but rather a severe anxiety attack. Colin made it home safely, but come September, his division is eligible for deployment again and the family could start reliving the day-to-day uncertainty.

It’s a day-to-day uncertainty that Tim and Kathy Ryan are living.

Their son, Michael Ryan, is on an aircraft carrier, right now, somewhere in the ocean’s vast expanse, heading towards the Middle East to support the U.S. combat operations in the region. The Bishop Luers graduate enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17 with his parent’s permission as part of a delayed entry program. While still in high school, Michael competed on the wrestling and football teams while also completing extensive physical workouts to train for his life’s ambition – joining the Navy so he could see the world.

Michael is an aircrewman and rescue swimmer attached to a helicopter squadron aboard an aircraft carrier now deployed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The Department of Defense says Inherent Resolve will support combat operations against ISIS. Kathy Ryan said that she and Tim are proud of their son.

“It’s a really important job and a program that has a really high attrition rate and our son is doing very well in this opportunity – so we’re very proud of him.”

Now at the beginning of an eight to nine month-long deployment, Michael’s family is used to their son being gone and only having sporadic contact with him via telephone and social media. Not unlike the Brodmerkel’s, the Ryan family also has mixed emotions about their son’s career choice. Michael will soon be in a combat zone doing a dangerous job, so his parents are nervous and anxious, but also excited and proud their son is doing the job he trained for the last three years. Even though their son could, like Colin Brodmerkel, be in danger.

It’s a danger that Tony Johnston understands too well.

During the 26 years that Tony spent in the Air National Guard, his wife and children (three of them) saw him deploy at least 13 times for between two and five months at a time. Three of those deployments were to Iraq where he regularly faced rocket and mortar attacks.

“Sometimes you’d be throwing a football around; sometimes you’d be running for cover.”

Tony rose to the rank of Master Sergeant while maintaining the avionics on the F-4 Phantom, the F-16 Falcon, and the A-10 Warthog. Avionics are everything on an airplane that doesn’t generate power – the radar, the radio system, the electronic countermeasures, etc.

Of Tony’s life overseas and away from his family, he says, “You just sort of suck it up. But, my wife had a harder time being over here, than I had over there.”

Tony’s wife still had to run a household while also worrying about Tony, who says he always knew he was going to eat and sleep, but his wife, he says, didn’t know whether he was still alive or not, day to day.

Injured in an accident during one deployment, Johnston was forced to retire after being diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury he says makes everything in his life more difficult.

More difficult, was putting his nephew, Nick, on a plane April 10 to the Middle East. Also in the Air National Guard, and also an avionics specialist, Tony’s nephew left an expecting wife at home.

“He’ll miss the birth of his child,” says Tony of his nephew’s deployment. While Tony wouldn’t share Nick’s last name, he did share that Nick currently has a six-year-old and a one-month-old. And, just born on Friday, June 26th a boy named Breaccan!

Brandon D. Schwarze

Brandon D. Schwarze

Brandon Schwarze is a Fort Wayne native and an award winning, nationally published Journalist and Freelance Writer living in Fort Wayne. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer