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Remembering Kyle Brinlee - KIA 5/11/2004

May 11, 2004. Army Specialist Kyle Brinlee, 21, of Pryor, Oklahoma was killed when an IED tore through his vehicle while on convoy near Al Asad, Iraq.

This was during the early days. In many ways, after having returned on four more trips over the next decades, this one seems like the wild west. We drove thousands of miles in heavy engineering vehicles with little to no armor...Improvised Explosive Devices hadn’t really become a thing yet. But when the enemy started to escalate their use of that tactic, we countered by using sandbags in the floorboards and extra body armor or kevlar blankets draped over doors and on the backs of seats.

I belonged to a Combat Heavy Engineer Batallion from the Oklahoma National Guard, I had been command-directed at the last minute to fill a vacant slot and, even though I’d been with the unit for several months when May rolled around, I felt very much like the new kid amongst men and women who had grown up together, mostly born and raised in Eastern Oklahoma. I didn’t know Kyle well. His company split away from the battalion early on that deployment and was operating out of another camp. But I’d crossed paths with him during our pre-deployment training, and ended up near him and a group of his friends when we were all throwing duffle bags and gear onto trucks the day we boarded planes for Kuwait. He had everyone laughing through the nerves. He was handsome and charismatic with an easy smile that always reminded me of Luke Perry when he played that cowboy in 8 Seconds.

He has been remembered by friends and fellow Soldiers over the years as a guy who loved Harleys, enjoyed working on cars, and grew up learning carpentry from his father. He had a great sense of humor and was well liked. He graduated Pryor High School in 2001. And it was in that same high school auditorium that more than 1,300 people gathered to pay their respects almost exactly three years later.

The news that he’d been killed seemed to suck the oxygen out of world around that unit. It was utterly shocking. As I said, these were still relatively early days of the war. He was the first casualty that our unit had taken and, for most of us, the first we’d personally known to be killed in action.

Delusions of invulnerability were shattered.

So many memories are clouded thanks to my damaged brain, and the edges of this one have dulled, but the emotions I experienced during that period are as clear and visceral today as they were then. I wonder if I had any idea then that I - that we all - would become so familiar with the loss of the men and women we've served alongside. That we would re-experience those emotions so many times over.

15 years. It seems like a lifetime. It seems like yesterday. Kyle was taken too soon. And today, on this horrible anniversary, I pray that this family, his loved ones, and especially the men who were with him that day, find some joy and peace in his memory.

Gone, but never forgotten.

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