YAKIMA, Wash. –
Brotherhood can be a powerful thing. Many people have friends, even close friends. But for those who are part of a brotherhood, it can be life-changing. Especially for a young 18-year-old high school graduate seeking to change his life.
Pfc. Kyle Brennan is just such an individual, graduating high school in the Chicago suburb of Darien, Illinois, in 2018. He is now an infantryman and part of the Illinois National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Brennan said he is lucky he enlisted when he did, as the 2-130 is preparing for an upcoming deployment. Deployments seem to be on the forefront of his mind these days as he builds his camaraderie.
"There is a whole new part of the Army once you get that on your shoulder," said Brennan. "It's a brotherhood."
The "that" Brennan is referring to is the Army combat patch, also known as the deployment patch. The patch of Soldiers who have served in overseas combat missions is worn on the right shoulder under the American flag and signifies an air of experience that has become less common in the waning years of the Global War on Terror. What was once common from 2003 to 2015 at the height of the conflict is now rare among young Guardsmen and Reserve Soldiers.
However, Brennan isn't just after the patch, he is chasing something bigger.
"My main priority is serving my country," said Brennan. "It's my true passion."
As a young Soldier, Brennan is all smiles when he talks about military service. The gleam in his eye is a tell-tale sign that his parents, brother, and sister are all proud of him. Family is very important to the young private, but a close second is his country.
"I just wanted to serve and be a part of something that's big," said Brennan.
Brennan was inspired to join the military because of an older cousin who is an F-35 training pilot with the U.S. Air Force.
Brennan is currently enrolled in Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, and majoring in Business Law. He carefully chose his college for the Reserve Officer Training Corps program. This decision paid off as his recruiter suggested that he pursue a career with the Illinois National Guard to complement his ROTC program. Brennan would like to commission as an officer and eventually fly UH-60 Black Hawks.
"I'm taking online classes and one lecture class this semester," said Brennan. "But the military is my main priority and online classes will be easier to keep up with and make up with all the things I have coming up with my unit."
Brennan said that he was given the opportunity to opt out of Rising Thunder and the upcoming deployment, but he choose the military to serve and prioritized duty over everything else.
"I wanted to come on this exercise to get closer to the guys," said Brennan. "I knew them but really wasn't close with them. And also this got them to trust me more since I'm a new boot. Right now I'm making some really good friends. I haven't been closer to these guys like ever before and now we are really close. Like coming together and have a nice brotherhood."
While growing as a member of the team, Brennan is also growing as a Soldier. At Rising Thunder, he's expanding his skill sets and becoming a better infantryman.
"I really like being here," said Brennan. "I've learned a lot and I try to take in everything that everyone is giving me, information-wise. They are giving me new tasks that I've never done before. I'm learning a lot of new stuff. My favorite part is we are going out as platoon size and we are running around and seeing everything come together."
Brennan, like most of his fellow Illinois Guardsmen, has never interacted with a foreign partner force.
"I was at the shoot house with the Japanese and we showed them our trucks and stuff and they showed us theirs," said Brennan. "We also showed them some of our weapons. Even though there is a language barrier we still can use Google translate to talk."
By serving with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force at the Yakima Training Center, Brennan gets a taste of what his future deployment may be like. Many mobilizations involve international cooperation in austere environments. At Rising Thunder, he's doing it for three weeks instead of nine months.
"It's going to be a good life experience for me, I'm going to learn a lot of life lessons and hopefully get some good lifelong friends," said Brennan. "That's what I'm really excited about."
Every sentence that Brennan speaks, he has a compelling reason why he has found his brotherhood.
"Everyone has my back no matter the rank," said Brennan.