Callum Kreischer never met his father and he won’t remember meeting his father’s friends Wednesday, but his family will always be able to remind him that they were here, and that they came back to honor his father.
Three soldiers from the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division came to Bryan Wednesday morning to honor Private First Class Brandon Kreischer, a 2018 Bryan High School graduate. Kreischer was shot and killed by an Afghan soldier during an insider attack on July 29, 2019, while serving at a base in the Shah Wali Kot district of Afghanistan, north of Kandahar, along with Specialist Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, of Chicago.
Specialists Zac Harrow, Cauy Cozad and Kevin Hanlon drove 10 hours and 41 minutes from their barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, parked under Kreischer’s memorial banner on Main Street and then road marched another 12 miles to his gravesite at the Evansport Cemetery on Wednesday.
Road marching is an endurance event for soldiers who carry backpacks loaded with at least 35 pounds of gear, and often more. Every soldier must complete a long-distance march to complete basic training.
Harrow, from Defiance, organized the trek.
“It’s just another road march for us, but we wanted to do this for him, to honor his sacrifice,” he said. “No doubt Brandon would have done the same for us.”
Harrow and Kreischer knew each other before the Army, having met in high school.
“We were best friends,” he said. “We enlisted at the same time, went to basic training at the same time and we were in the same class at Airborne School (where they became paratroopers, along with Cozad and Hanlon). We were in the same unit at Fort Bragg and we went to Afghanistan together.”
“This was just a last-minute thing we put together since we’re going on block leave” (when most or all of the unit takes leave at the same time), Cozad said. “It kind of blew up from there.”
When Dan Bonnie, assistant director of the Williams County Veterans Service Office, heard about the plan, he pulled in local veterans who knew Kreischer to walk with their own packs alongside the soldiers.
Dana Grant (staff sergeant-retired, who served with the 983rd Engineer Battalion headquartered in Bryan) was Kreischer’s wrestling coach in junior high school.
“Brandon was the first kid I yelled at my first year as coach,” Grant said. “He lost a match and threw his head gear down so I tore into him about sportsmanship. We never had another problem and he never lost another match. He was dedicated, very focused and driven.”
Jason Barlow, Kreischer’s stepfather, still remembers that. He made the march with Kreischer’s brothers, Sage Saladin and Rylan Garza.
“Raised him since he was 4,” Barlow said. “We had a split-level house and the downstairs was their domain. I was constantly going down there. He was kind of a terror but a real good kid. The Army was his dream since he was 10 or 11. The military was all he talked about. He wanted to join the military and he did ... I miss him.”
“I’m sure he would have done this for us,” Saladin said. “He always tried to push people; cared about everybody and wanted them to do his best. And he’d definitely put a smile on your face. He had a laugh you will not forget. It was, um, really loud and kind of obnoxious.” He smiled at that and then slipped on his headphones.
For Bonnie, the march was one more reason to remember a soldier’s sacrifice.
“They are easily forgotten and it starts as soon as their name leaves your lips,” he said. “Not my quote, but it’s a good one, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
Local pastor Mike Elkins carried his own pack as a friend of the family. “A lot of Brandon’s family goes to our church and I definitely wanted to be here,” he said.
“How do you honor someone’s sacrifice?” Elkins said. “That’s what I keep thinking about here. It’s this and it’s more than this. I think it’s about being the best person you can be every day.”
Grace Kreischer, who was pregnant with Callum when her husband died, left Fort Bragg and came back to northwest Ohio where she continues to raise their son. They were part of the ground crew shuttling water throughout the march and met everyone at the end of the march at the cemetery.
“Thank you,” she said, holding Callum as he played with his toes. “Thanks to everyone for their support.”