Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr., 37, of Knoxville, Tenn.

Lt Col. Bryant was assigned to 56th Operations Group, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; died April 27, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from gunfire from an Afghan military trainee.

Frank Bryant Jr. never believed in giving up.

"He knew what he had to do, and he did it," said Dan Dugger, who coached him for four years at Karns High School. "The first time I ever met him, he told me, 'I want to be a wrestler, and I want to be a fighter pilot.' Once he decided to do something, he worked all out for it."

That determination earned Bryant a state wrestling championship, his Air Force wings and the nickname "Bruiser."

He died Wednesday when an angry Afghan pilot opened fire in an airport operations room in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Seven other U.S. troops and an American civilian contractor, serving as military advisers to the country's air force, died in the shooting, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Air Force didn't announce or confirm Bryant's death Thursday, and family members were traveling and couldn't be reached. Dugger said the family told him of Bryant's death Wednesday night.

Bryant graduated from Karns High in 1991, the same year he brought home the state trophy at 119 pounds. The win led to a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, where he was captain of the wrestling team and most-valuable player. He received his silver wings in 1997.

"I've never seen another one like him," Dugger said. "He came in as a freshman weighing 90 pounds. When he won state champion, there was no jumping around and hollering. He took his headgear off, folded it, and just shook hands with his opponent and me."

Bryant had served in Iraq, where he piloted an F-16 on more than a dozen bombing missions in Baghdad and helped support a surprise raid aimed at Saddam Hussein and his sons.

"It compared somewhat to being in a big match," he said when he returned. "The curiosity of the unknown makes it exciting."

Friends said Bryant didn't like to brag. So his commanders bragged for him.

"Bruiser is an absolute super star on my team of fighter pilots," Lt. Col. Jon Norman, who commanded Bryant's squadron during the Baghdad missions, wrote in a 2003 letter to Bryant's parents, Frank and Pat. "I am very honored to lead such a fine young man."

Friends said Bryant left behind a wife and a son

Air Force Lt. Col. Frank D. Bryant Jr. was killed in action on 4/27/11.

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