Military life with Bryan Kelley

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Bryan Kelley knew from Day 1 he made the right decision.

He saw a chance to learn a high-tech skill.

Bryan was following in his father’s and grandfathers’ footsteps — he was proud of that, and hoped the three men he looks up to feel the same way.

Bryan admittedly needed a crash course in leadership training, and his new job would certainly offer plenty of chances to improve his demeanor.

Most of all, Bryan saw joining the United States Air Force as “something that I not only wanted to do, but had to do.”

As the nation prepares to honor its veterans for their sacrifices and service this Friday, Bryan Kelley of North Bridgton represents the next generation of American soldier.

“When I decided to join the Air Force, I fully understood the sacrifices and dangers that go with it,” said Bryan during an interview earlier this fall when he returned home from an eight-month stint in Afghanistan. “I went into this with no blinders on. I wanted to serve my country, and better myself as an individual. Through my experiences so far, I’ve learned a lot about myself and developed some lifetime bonds.”

After two months of training, Bryan received his deployment orders. He was headed for Afghanistan this past January. His mother, Tami, knew it would be difficult to say good-bye.

“I did a lot of praying every day that he was over there,” said Tami, who is the director of the Bridgton Hospital Physicians Group. “You respect the decision he made to serve his country, but as a mother, you can’t help but worry about what could go wrong. It was especially difficult when there were news reports of severe casualties, and Bryan couldn’t call home, so it left us wondering how he was doing. That made for some very long days and nights.”

During troubled times, Tami found strength in family and friends. They could tell when she needed a kind word to ease her mind and provide some comfort.

“I knew, in my heart of hearts, there were things that Bryan didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want me to worry,” she said. “When he could tell I was a little down, he always tried to cheer me up.”

Thousands of miles away, Bryan tried to be reassuring even when the situation in Afghanistan became contentious.

“You know your family is going to worry about you. Sometimes, it is better that they don’t know entirely what is happening over there,” Bryan said.

Like all young soldiers, Bryan immediately looked to “prove himself” in the eyes of his peers. Little did he know, that challenge would be raised to a higher level when he was assigned to an Army division. Bryan quickly learned that when a unit came under enemy fire, it didn’t matter what branch one belonged to.

“There’s a saying, ‘When bullets fly, we are all brothers.’ That’s so true,” he said.

Military life is hard. Working 12 hours shifts, seven days a week for seven months was “trying,” but Bryan reminded himself of the importance of the mission — “to keep our country out of harm’s way.” He saw things he will never forget. He experienced “situations” that changed him — mostly for the better.

As his tour neared its end, Bryan started to think about the little things he missed at home.

“You forget just how good a long, hot shower feels,” he said. “I was looking forward to smoking victory cigars with a couple of my buddies.”

Most of all, Bryan couldn’t wait to return home.

His mother created a homecoming Bryan would never forget. It seemed there was a “Welcome Home, SRA Bryan Kelley” everywhere he looked.

“People were so supportive when I asked them,” Tami said.

Even the Maine Mall jumped on the welcome home bandwagon. Normally, the mall reserves sign use for in-store special announcements, not personal greetings. However, Tami explained how Bryan had worked at the mall for two years, and she was granted a short window of sign use.

During his travel back to North Bridgton, Bryan — dressed in USAF fatigues — stopped and had his picture taken with each “Welcome Home” sign. The gesture touched him.

“It’s really nice to see that people do appreciate and respect your service to the country,” Bryan said.

As expected, friends asked Bryan to talk about his experiences in Afghanistan. Questions ranged from did he see people die, did he encounter close calls and what were some of the jobs he was assigned to do.

“People are curious. They wanted to know what it was like and what happened,” he said. “There are some things I don’t mind talking about, and there are some things I am not able to talk about. They understand.”

With three years left to serve, Bryan is stationed in Little Rock, Ark., where he works with navigational and communication equipment.

“I’ve climbed some towers that go up 80 feet,” he said. “I was surprised that I’m actually not afraid of heights.”

Tami and Alan Kelley are proud of Bryan’s accomplishments, his growth as a person and his willingness to sacrifice and to serve his country.

They also like to recognize other servicemen and servicewomen, who like Bryan, have put country before themselves. As a sign of their appreciation, the Kelleys have handed several military personnel half-dollar size medallions. The coin’s face includes an eagle and American flag along with the inscription, “Respect & appreciation for your service” — The Kelley’s, Bridgton, Maine. The backside has the seals of the five military branches — Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard.

“It’s just our small way of saying ‘thanks’ for serving our country,” Tami said. “We want them to know their efforts are appreciated.”

On Veterans Day Friday, Lake Region residents can also say “thanks” by attending a local memorial service.

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