Ray Gora / Lincoln Times-News
After being at war for the last six months, eastern Lincoln County resident Bradley Turner returned home Sunday to find nearly 150 friends and family members welcoming him at his home church, Friendly Chapel Baptist in Denver.
“I never expected it to be that big,” he told the Times-News on Monday. “I was overwhelmed by it.”
Church member and close friend Jaime Keller helped planned the event after hearing how much Turner missed home.
“He was really homesick,” she said, “and we thought this would be a great way to celebrate him and what he’s doing for our country.”
Former classmates and teachers from his alma mater Bandys High School were also on-hand at Sunday’s event.
The 20-year-old infantry soldier enlisted at age 18, still a fresh graduate, to “make something” of himself.
“I knew I was going into the military when I was in 8th or 9th grade,” he said. “It was just a matter of when.”
In January 2012, he shipped out for two months of intense physical and mental basic training at Ft. Lewis, Wash., before being deployed to the Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan in July.
“I wanted to be on the front lines,” he said.
During his time in Afghanistan, Turner never witnessed the kind of brute warfare that many other soldiers seldom survive.
He also maintained anything but down time while overseas, serving as his infantry unit’s automatic rifleman, drawing protection for him and his fellow foot soldiers from his gun, an M249 squad automatic weapon.
“Honestly, it’s just like a normal job,” he said. “You’re still working every day, but it’s not as hard as everyone makes it out to be.”
The day before Turner’s unit moved from the Middle Eastern country’s fighting province to calmer territory and started the tedious process of traveling back home to the United States, he celebrated his 20th birthday, having matured more than in age in the last year.
“It was a good going away present,” he said.
Due to his overseas placement, he has already received an Army Commendation Medal, an award given for heroic acts or meritorious service.
Following a three-week vacation, during which time he plans to attend the Carolina Cup horse race in South Carolina and spend time with those he loves, particularly his girlfriend Alexandria Maynard, Turner said he will return to Ft. Lewis with no set second deployment on the calendar.
However, he knows it’s only a matter of time before he will be missing American soil again.
“With everything happening in Israel and North and South Korea, there’s no telling when (you’ll be called),” he said. “You just need to be ready to go.”
The fearless and patriotic military man plans to make a career out of his camouflage fatigues and combat boots.
He encouraged young high school students contemplating a similar military career to “never quit” and look forward to the “good experience” ahead.