Thursday, December 6, 2007

Welcome Home Brainard Shirley

"Marine returns to surprise celebration
By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

When Marine Sgt. Brainard D. Shirley enlisted in October 2000, there was no war.
But as soon as it started in March 2003, Shirley was among the first troops to be deployed to Iraq. On Nov. 4, he returned from his third deployment to Iraq.
And on Nov. 17, his parents, relatives, friends and supporters welcomed the 32-year-old Kirtland native home.
As Shirley emerged from a sleek black stretch limousine to greet more than 45 members of a motorcycle honor guard, he was speechless and teary-eyed, but all smiles.
His mother, Althea Shirley, had told him only that his family was having a potluck for him.
But before the potluck, he was surprised with a triumphal procession courtesy of the San Juan County Sheriff's Department, Valley Fire Department, and a 45-member motorcycle escort organized by the local chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders.
Led by a large red fire truck and an emergency vehicle - with sirens blaring - the cortege escorted Shirley in his limo through Kirtland and the nearby communities of Nenahnezad, Shiprock, Hogback, Waterflow and Fruitland, N.M.
Inside the limo with Shirley was his wife, Antoinette, their three children, Lynnette, 7, Kaylynne, 4, and Brainard Jr., 2, and his parents, Calvin and Althea Shirley of Kirtland.
Shirley, resplendent in his Marine dress uniform, stood and waved to onlookers from the limo's open sun roof after his wife mentioned that the people wanted to see him.
"I wanted to show everyone I appreciated the support they gave us," he said.
The procession wound back to the union hall in Kirtland, where more supporters waited to join Shirley in a feast of fresh grilled mutton, roast turkey with all the fixings, stacks of fry bread and tortillas, watermelon, pumpkin pie, and a huge cake.
The hall was packed with about 175 people of all ages, who listened as master of ceremonies Lambert Yazzie emphasized the importance of spouses of enlisted personnel.
"These wives go through hell," Yazzie bellowed. "And they are the ones that see the change in their man when he comes home from the war." As his words rang throughout the hall, they were met with thundering applause and cheers.
Yazzie, whose own wife Caroleen is a Blue Star Mother, pointed out that while Brainard was serving his country, Antoinette was home by herself taking care of their three children.
"My dad told me that behind every good man is a great wife," he added.
During Shirley's seven years of service, the longest he's been with his family was at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for 14 months. Besides serving tours in Iraq, he was also deployed twice to Japan.
"She was always there," Shirley said. "My wife went through a whole lot. She had to take care of the kids, house, the truck, everything by herself." Later, Antoinette talked about how hard her husband's long absences have been on their children.
"He leaves and they don't know who he is," she said. "And they have to get used to him. It's hard with him being away." The couple has been together since 1999 and married four years ago.
Antoinette smiled as she remembered how they first met. It was at a family Thanksgiving dinner. Brainard had not yet enlisted and she was attending Kirtland High School, where she graduated in 2001.
"I'm just proud of him and happy to have him home safe," she said. "I'm just happy all these people came to support him." She added that his decision to remain stateside through the end of his enlistment three years from now means she and the kids will have all the time they need to get to know him again.
"I'm back," Brainard said with a big smile. "I'm really missing my kids growing up and my wife. I want to give her the help she needs. I want to spend time with my family." He added sadly, "(Brainard Jr.) was scared of me." Althea Shirley said when her son called her from Iraq in August and told her that it was his last deployment there, she felt like her prayers had been answered. Finally, it was time to plan a welcome home celebration.
Althea, a hair stylist, mentioned her plans to some customers and they encouraged her to talk to Nenahnezad resident Ervin Tsosie about organizing a motorcycle honor run.
She was hesitant to contact him but once she did, Tsosie, Southwest region captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, assured her that the bikers would be glad to participate, she said.
Althea said she was surprised by the overwhelming number of people who showed up to welcome her son home.
"I'm glad for him, that he joined the military," Calvin Shirley said with a huge smile. "I'm really proud of him, that he served his country." But when Brainard's youngest brother, 22-year-old Elijah, sought to follow in his footsteps, his mother put her foot down and wouldn't let him enlist. Two other brothers, Michael, 23, and Maynard, 29, are busy working and going to school, she said.
When it came time for Brainard's speech, began thanking everyone. But as he continued looking around the room full of friendly faces, he stopped talking and smiled with embarrassment as tears began filling his eyes.
"This is a big, big surprise," he said. "I didn't expect anything like this. Mom told me to come home so I did. I thought this would just be a little dinner.
"Just seeing everyone come together just for me, some guy from a small town, gets to me, gets to my heart," he said. "I thank you all from the bottom of my heart." Brainard said his welcome home also showed that the community supports his comrades in Iraq.
"Keep praying for them," he hollered. "I want to say more but people are hungry."

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