As an Army Airborne Ranger, Kyle Bradley was deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. Still, it's his deployment to the Toledo Mud Hens game today that has Specialist Bradley feeling nervous.
The 23-year-old Sylvania native will be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before the 7 p.m. game and, more importantly, presenting a U.S. flag dubbed "With Valor" to the Fulton County Fireman's Association.
"With Valor" was one of two flags that had been draped over a steel beam salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and transported to Wauseon last summer by members of the Wauseon Fire Department. The flag also accompanied Kyle's older brother, Colby Bradley, on 33 missions in Afghanistan.
"This is a big deal for me. I think it's awesome," Kyle Bradley said. "Had I known about any of this — that Dawn [Hamer] was going to give Colby a flag and it would blow up to this magnitude — well, I'm real nervous about it."
Ms. Hamer, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Lyons Fire Department, said she knew exactly what flag she wanted to send to her friend, Colby, last year when he was deployed to Afghanistan and told her he didn't have a flag to carry with him on missions — something Rangers typically do on deployments. He suggested she send her fire department's flag, but she had another idea.
Ms. Hamer said she knew about Wauseon's plan to bring an artifact from the World Trade Center back to Fulton County and that all of the fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and veterans organizations in the county were going to work together to build a permanent memorial around the steel beam.
"I knew there would be a flag covering the beam as it came home from New York," she said. "I knew that had to be the flag. There was no question in my mind. That flag was meant to go to Afghanistan. I sent Colby a message: ‘Found the perfect flag. It will be there in a few weeks.'?"
That flag, which had covered the steel beam on the second leg of its trip from New York, was dubbed "Old Glory." It was an oversized flag that Colby Bradley found was too big to carry between his body armor as he typically would. He kept it in his backpack instead.
"He sent a message saying he would carry it for two weeks and then send it back with a certificate [to show where the flag had been], but we made a decision that the flag was to stay with him and be hand-delivered by him back home so that we knew he was safe," Ms. Hamer recalled. "It was supposed to come back dirty, hand-delivered, and whatever he does, don't get it shot."
Near the end of his deployment, Colby Bradley met up with his brother at Bagram Airfield and gave him "Old Glory" to carry home. Kyle Bradley tossed aside his bath towel to make room in his bag for the flag, which had been on 19 missions. The brothers presented it to firefighters back in Fulton County last September.
Ms. Hamer said "Old Glory" had been used as a backdrop at re-enlistment ceremonies for two Rangers.
"I think that's the big driver — the memory of why they're over there fighting this war and going through that hell they go through every day," she said.
Colby Bradley, 31, is now on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan with the 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. "With Valor," which also covered the steel beam brought to Wauseon, accompanied him on this trip and was shipped home with a fellow Ranger. The Ranger delivered the flag to Kyle, who is now stationed in Hinesville, Ga., as a sniper team leader with the 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.
In an email to The Blade, Colby Bradley said it was his younger brother who inspired him to become a Ranger. Kyle Bradley enlisted shortly after graduating from Southview High School in 2007. His father — a veteran — tried to talk Kyle out of it.
Instead, Colby Bradley enlisted too, and the two former high school wrestlers went off to basic training and then to the Ranger Indoctrination Program together. Kyle said he might not have made it through the rigorous program without Colby there. Colby said the same.
"It was tough," Kyle said. "The whole goal is to try to make you quit. They figure if you're going to quit here, you're going to quit out there in combat."
Colby said he would like nothing better than to join Kyle and their 200 or so other family members and friends at the Mud Hens game tonight, "but instead I know where I will be and that is in Afghanistan doing what Airborne Rangers do best — going after the people that try to do bad things to innocent people."
"It is my duty. This is where I belong," he wrote. "I signed up for this, so I am not mad that I can't be there. I love my country so if that means I have to give up some things for the freedom of other people then that is what I must do. At least the people back home can enjoy that Fourth of July freedom without worry. I just ask everyone to be safe and to take care of each other. We will be doing the same over here."
"Old Glory" will be flown during today's game. Visitors also can view the steel beam that will be part of the Fulton County 9/11 Memorial beyond the outfield fence on the St. Clair Street side of Fifth Third Field.
"The Toledo Mud Hens are privileged to have the opportunity for such a special flag to fly over Fifth Third Field," said Kim McBroom, chief marketing officer for the Mud Hens and Toledo Walleye. "We're honored that the Wauseon Fire Department will share the flag, the steel beam, and its story with our fans."
As for Colby, he's carrying a new flag. He bought it in Afghanistan, named it "Muddy Heart," and plans to give it to the Mud Hens when he returns.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129.