Saturday, October 30, 2010

Army Cpl. Brett W. Land

Remember Our Heroes

Army Cpl. Brett W. Land, 24, of Wasco, Calif.

Cpl. Land was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Oct. 30, 2010 in Zhari district, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.

Veterans Day has taken on a whole new and somber meaning for Porterville with news that Porterville native Spc. Brett W. Land, 24, died Oct. 30 after his unit was attacked by insurgents with an improvised explosive device in the Zhari district of Afghanistan.

Land is the son of Kenny Land of Camp Nelson and Gretchen Land of Wasco.

Land grew up in Porterville, attended Burton Elementary School, then moved to Bakersfield where he was a standout wrestler on the Bakersfield High School team that won the state wrestling title in 2004.

He joined the Army in November of 2008 and this was his first tour of duty as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was scheduled to come home Nov. 15 for 10-days of leave when he was to see for the first time his newborn baby daughter. The child, Rileigh, was born just three weeks ago.

Kenny Land, who has worked for Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella for 42 years, got a call Saturday morning informing him of his son’s death.

He said he was told that his son was with four other soldiers when they were attacked. Land was the only one killed, but the other four were injured. All were assigned to Company C., 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

“It’s just one of those things,” said his dad of what happened. “I just keep hanging on the fact that he thought he was doing something good.”

He said his son had already decided to re-enlist and make the Army a career.

“He kind of decided to make a career of it,” said his father. “He really loved it and felt like he needed to be over there. I’m proud of what he was doing.”

Land was an outstanding wrestler. “He started wrestling when he was five,” said his father, adding that nearly everything they did revolved around wrestling. He wrestled on several club teams and as a child he won a couple of national championships and in high school finished third in the state one year and fifth another year.

He wrestled for a short while with West Hills College in Coalinga. Kenny Land said his son was eyeing returning to the states and wrestling in the Army.

During basic training at Ft. Benning in Georgia, Brett Land met his wife, Sarah. She, however, is from California and now lives in Hesperia with their newborn daughter.

The news has come as a shock to many in Porterville, especially the student body of Burton Middle School where they had made Land their “adopted soldier,” said principal and longtime friend of the Land family, Michelle Pengilly.

“It’s tragic today. It feels like we lost one of our own children,” said Pengilly who informed students of Land’s death at the start of school on Monday. “It was very quiet. A lot of sad and long faces,” she said.

Students had been writing Land and had just last week sent off their first care package — a package he will never see.

Pengilly said sadly they at first had the wrong address for Land and the package came back, or he would have received it before Saturday.

Several pictures of Land are displayed around the school and for the rest of this week flags at the campus will be flown at half staff.

“I loved him,” said Pengilly, recalling how she baked cookies with him when he was a child. “I have many fond memories of him.”

She exchanged e-mails with him often and said while he never came out and said what he was doing was dangerous, she could sense that from his messages. “He said things were tough over there. I always had an uneasy feeling,” she said.

She was looking forward to seeing him when he got home later this month and hoped to have him meet with the students.

Kenny Land said funeral arrangements will be made when the military releases his body to the family. That could take up to 10 days. He is not sure where services will be held, but said they likely will be in Porterville where he has many relatives. Besides his parents, he is survived by a sister, two brothers and numerous nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Jasper Land, retired Porterville School District official and cousin of Kenny Land, said he fondly recalls Brett, especially his wrestling. He said Brett would do a backward flip as he entered the mat for a match in an attempt to intimidate his opponent.

Ed Flory, chairman of the city’s Veterans Day observance, said a special tribute will be made to Land at this year’s Vets Day parade.

He noted that Land is the first local man killed in action in Afghanistan and only the second in either Afghanistan or Iraq. A Monache High School graduate, Michael Mitchell, was killed in Iraq in April of 2004.

According to the Army, Land’s awards and decorations include: National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Airborne Tab.

Army Cpl. Brett W. Land was killed in action on 10/30/10.

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