Former Brandywine standout serving first tour in AfghanistanPublished 1:29pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010
This is the first story in a continuing series that will give readers a glimpse inside the lives of local men and women who are currently active military members.
Part 1 of 2
By ERIKA PICKLES
Niles Daily Star
For Kory Bridges, game time has a whole new meaning.
The 2005 Brandywine graduate and former baseball standout has traded in his glove and cleats for an entirely new uniform – combat boots and camouflage.
On Dec. 29, 2009, Bridges, a Private First Class with the 618th Nasty Engineer Company of the United States Army, left U.S. grounds on a year long deployment to Afghanistan. This is his first tour in the south-central Asian country.
“It’s going to be a long year,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m excited and scared. This isn’t training anymore. It’s the real thing.”
Bridges, 23, was stationed in Kandahar or Qandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, during the first 11 days of his arrival. On Saturday, Jan. 9, he was shipped to an undisclosed location in the country, where he will spend the next year or more. The lifelong Niles resident admitted he has a lot of adjusting to do.
“It’s a completely different culture over here,” he said. “Kind of unexplainable. Everything about life is different – the geography, the time difference, the people. I look outside and I see people riding camels through the desert. It almost doesn’t even seem like my life and it’s going to take some time to get used to this.”
And it’s something his parents, Garry and Cheryl Bridges, and sister, Kelly Bridges-Cook, have also had to adjust to.
“We have a whole different outlook on things now,” Cheryl said. “It’s one thing when someone you know is sent over there, but when it’s your own child, it really changes your life. We have learned more these past nine months than we ever knew about the military.”
Before enlisting in the Army, Kory was a standout athlete for the Bobcats’ baseball team and one of the most recognized pitchers in the area. He carries a wide list of accomplishments, which include being named first team All-State, first team All-Conference, All-District and he is ranked sixth in the state for having the most strikeouts in a career (401).
After high school, he earned a full scholarship to continue his baseball career with Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where he also holds the record of most strikeouts in a single season.
Kory graduated from KVCC in April 2009 with an associate degree in business, but before graduating, he had other plans in store for his future.
“I wanted to do something positive with my life and have a job that only a small percentage of people in the United States carry,” he said. “Plus, I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime.”
According to the U.S. Department of Defense Web site, only 9 percent of the U.S. population is enlisted in one of the five branches of the military. As of October 2009, there were 5 million active military members and roughly 303 million people in the U.S.
Kory’s decision to join was something that didn’t set well with his parents at first. Garry explained that his son had talked about joining one of the military branches, but he didn’t think he was serious.
“Then I noticed more and more people approaching me and asking me about his decision to join so that made me think he was really considering it,” Garry said. “He and I sat down and had a pretty serious talk about his decision.”
He said his son originally had planned to join the Marines, but after researching the Army; he liked what they had to offer.
“From that point, there was no turning back,” Garry added. “He told me he made up his mind and no one was going to change his decision. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset about it, but I also be lying if I said I wasn’t proud.”
On March 5, 2009, one month before his college graduation, Kory was sworn in.
“It all happened so fast and I was shocked by his decision. He was just getting ready to start his life and all the sudden he was leaving for the army. I kept hoping that he would change his mind, but he didn’t” his sister, Kelly, said.
Now, not even one year later, Kory is 4,000 miles away from home.
“In a matter of nine months (he went overseas),” Cheryl said. “I really can’t believe it. We knew when he joined that there was a chance he would be going, but not this soon.”
Before heading half way around the world, Kory completed nine-weeks of basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
“It was rough,” he said. “Basic combat skills are developed, teamwork, physical fitness training, weapons training – any physical training you can thing of was involved. It pushes you to the limit, but it pays off.”
And his training wasn’t limited to just ground skills. After basic training in Missouri, he was sent to Fort Benning, Ga. for three weeks of training at Airborne School.
“One of my most memorable experiences so far was being able to jump out of an airplane,” he said. “Not many people can say they get paid to do that.”
And it’s something his father is proud of as well.
Kory is a second generation Airborne. His father was a 12th Special Forces Airborne Reserve from 1970 to 1976. Although he has military experience, he said things have changed since his six years in.
“I never left U.S. grounds,” Garry said. “But at that time, the draft was going on and they didn’t use reserves like they do today. Now, they are deploying entire reserve units.”
From Airborne school, Kory was sent to his duty station at Fort Bragg, N.C. Upon his arrival, he learned he was heading to Afghanistan.
“The first day I got there, they told us we were going,” he said. “That’s when the emotions started to hit me – happy, scared, excited, worried. It was real. But I was prepared to be called on.”
And the news was something his family didn’t take too well.
“Within 72 hours of his arrival at Bragg, he found out he was going to Afghanistan,” Cheryl said. “It was a bittersweet moment for us. Sure we were upset about it. What parent wants to see their child go half way across the world to fight in a war? But at the same time we couldn’t be more proud of what he’s doing.”
Kelly said the fact that her brother joined the army in a time of war, knowing that he would more than likely have to overseas to serve his country, proved to her how brave he is.
“I’m proud,” she said. “Couldn’t describe my feelings any other way. It takes a very special person to give all their time and energy like he has over the last several months, and will continue to do for years to come.”
Cheryl added that her son’s lifelong involvement in sports has and will continue to help him while he is overseas.
“He knows what it means to be a team player and I know all the guys will look out for one another,” Cheryl said. “I told him he has his family over here and always will, but he also has another family now – the men and women he is serving with.”