Kory's nephew, Brady, likes to wear "Army boy" uniforms just like his uncle. "He's very well aware of what Kory does," his mom, Kelly, said. (Daily Star photo/Provided)
Kory's nephew, Brady, likes to wear "Army boy" uniforms just like his uncle. "He's very well aware of what Kory does," his mom, Kelly, said. (Daily Star photo/Provided)

Archived Story

Niles soldier, family live worlds apart

Published 10:25am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Niles Daily Star

Part 2 of 2

When it comes to his career, Kory Bridges, a private first class with the United States Army, doesn’t have a set schedule. In fact, each day brings new challenges for the 23-year-old Niles resident.

Bridges has been in Afghanistan since Dec. 31, 2009 and, upon his arrival, he’s been trained non-stop for his year-long missions. While he couldn’t share all details of his duties, one he could talk about was the fact he will be dealing with one of the biggest threats to troops in the country.

“I do route clearance, which means I look for IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said. “We have to find them and destroy them, otherwise they could cause a lot of damage. We have to keep the roadways safe for everyone. My job isn’t just limited to that though. We have different missions all the time.”

According to Pentagon statistics and military reports, roadside bombs, or IEDs, are the No. 1 threat to troops in Afghanistan right now and are the weapon of choice for insurgents in that country.

Use of roadside bombs has increased dramatically just in the past year and will continue to increase with the upcoming elections in the country.

On this particular mission, Bridges and other soldiers patrol the streets for hours on end each day, driving about five miles per hour in Army vehicles. While they keep focus on what their real purpose is, Bridges said it’s hard not to get distracted by the citizens.

“The amount of kids that run up to the vehicles is unreal,” he said. “We have to throw candy to them when we see them. You’ve got kids running on rocks, barefoot, just to get candy or wave to us. Then again, you have kids who could care less and throw rocks at us or purposely run in front of the vehicle. It’s really eye opening. If you’ve seen pictures of kids in other countries – dirty clothes, no shoes, very thin – that’s how most of these kids look. It’s really a sad sight.”

Danger and distractions aside, Bridges said he knows it’s important to stay focused at all times. While he admitted his field experience thus far has been “amazing and indescribable,” he knows there are challenges that could arise at anytime.

“I won’t lie, it’s scary,” he said. “Anything can happen in the blink of an eye. But you can’t think about that. You have to be well aware of everything that’s going on around you. My brothers’ lives are in my hands every time we go outside the wire. We all have to depend on the guy to the left and right of us and I’m always to the left and right of someone.”

When he’s not on missions, Bridges keeps in contact with family and friends back home. His phone service is limited, so he relies heavily on Internet use. Networking sites like Facebook allow him to instant message everyone and he hopes to get Skype hooked up in the near future, which will allow him to see and talk to people live from his computer via a Web cam.

“I never know when I’m going to be able to talk to people,” Bridges said. “I could go days before talking to anyone or I could talk to them twice in one day, just depends on how long I’m working. The good news is that we should be getting wireless in our rooms really soon, so I’m looking forward to that and hoping I’ll be able to reach out to everyone a little more.”
It would almost seem impossible for troops to be able to get Internet service in such remote areas, but in the past seven years, satellite broadband companies have formed, allowing soldiers, like Bridges, to stay in touch as much as possible.

Bridges’ sister, Kelly Cook, said the distance between her brother and his family has been tough, especially since he’s never been further than an hour away from home.

“Kalamazoo was the only other place he lived,” Kelly said. “But now, he’s lived in three different states and is worlds away from everything he has ever known and I know at times it gets hard for him. But we constantly reassure him of why he is there and he knows how important his job is and we talk to him whenever we can.”

His parents, Garry and Cheryl Bridges, purchased two new computers for Christmas so they could keep in constant contact with their son.

“One of the first things I did was get a Facebook account because I knew he would be on there,” Cheryl said. “And it will be nice when we get the cameras hooked up to the computer so we can talk to him and see his face.”

Although she enjoys the online chats, Cheryl admitted she prefers hearing her son’s voice.
“It makes me feel better because I can tell if he’s OK or not just by the sound of his voice,” she said.

Garry credited Samatha Nader, long time family friend and employee of the family’s business, Bridges Motor Sales, for being their “night watch.”

“She will sit on Facebook for hours on end waiting for him to get online,” he said. “He can’t get on everyday, but when he does, she calls us right away and we hop on and talk to him. She knows she doesn’t have to do it, but she does. You can really appreciate how far we’ve gotten with technology when you have to rely on it just to talk to your son. The letter writing days are pretty much non-existent anymore.”

Although technology is a big plus for troops, one thing they are still lacking is having access to everyday essentials. Bridges’ family and friends send care packages to him as often as possible, which includes everything from snacks and hot sauce to batteries and alarm clocks. Soldiers have no way of purchasing items on their own as no stores are in sight, so they rely heavily on packages from home.

“Everything he needs, we have to send,” Cheryl said. “I just sent out a package that had some of his favorite items in it and will continue to do so until he comes home. Everything we take for granted is a necessity to him right now.”

Kelly also plans to send packages that will include pictures of two very important individuals: her children, Brady and Megan.

“The kids are so close to Uncle Kory, even with the distance between them,” Kelly said. “Everyday his name is mentioned by them. One thing I know Kory enjoys the most is getting to hear the kids talk to him on the phone or seeing pictures of how fast they are growing.”

Kelly said her children are well aware of what their uncle is going through, especially Brady.

“He is very much in tune with what Kory does,” Kelly said. “For Halloween he dressed up as an ‘Army boy,’ as he calls it, and when we went to Missouri for Kory’s graduation, Brady followed him around non stop. He even picked up on the Army march. He most definitely looks up to Kory.”

Kory admitted his time away from his niece and nephew have been hard, and it doesn’t get easier as time goes by.

“I love those kids to death,” he said. “It gets harder and harder every time I have to say bye and every time I come home, they get bigger and bigger.”

Despite leaving his family and friends, going through endless amounts of training and carrying on one of the most dangerous missions, Kory said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I knew the sacrifice I was making when I raised my right hand,” he said. “My motivation is the American Flag on my right shoulder and knowing that I’ll come home to the people that truly love and miss me. This is only the beginning for me. It’s my life now.”

His parents and his sister also admitted they couldn’t be more proud of what he is doing.
“We’ve already seen a change in him,” Kelly said. “He seems to be more caring, considerate and respectful of others and he is more determined to succeed in life.”

Kory said he would encourage anyone considering a career in the military to join. He said it has been a life changing experience thus far, and the possibilities for his future are very promising.

“If your second guessing yourself, don’t. It’s a great experience,” he said. “It’s very rewarding and you’ll get to see places you never thought imaginable. You’ll also get to do things that no other job would allow you to do and your job is different everyday. And you can’t believe everything you hear. Ninety percent of it what is said or what people visualize is negative and it gives people the wrong impression of why we do what we do. We’re continuing to make this country everything it’s meant to be. And that’s something I’m very proud to be a part of.”

Bridges will get a chance to come home sometime this year for two weeks of rest and relaxation. Although he’s unsure of when that will happen, he said the support from everyone back home is key in helping his fight in the biggest battle of his life thus far.
“This is a whole new ball game, but this is my life now and I don’t regret any of the decisions I have made,” he said.

This is the first of a continuing series of articles that will be featured in the Daily Star.

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