Christopher Braley wants to go to the frontlines in the Global War on Terror in Afghanistan to do what he was trained to do - render medical aid to wounded Marines on the battle field.
The military won’t let him.
It’s not because he doesn’t have the skill, the courage and the commitment. He does.
It is against military policy to send a soldier back into combat who has sustained battle wounds as severe as the one’s Braley did in September of 2007 while serving as a Navy medic in Iraq.
Braley was accompanying Marines on a patrol when gunfire broke out then an explosive detonated, sending shrapnel into his right eye and his brain. Braley spent several months at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was there that President George W. Bush visited with him and his mother, Debra Braley, and presented Braley with a Purple Heart.
“I want to be deployed to Afghanistan,” Braley said. “I have my job to do and my job is on the battlefield.”
The Navy, though, has offered to assign him to hospital duty if he re-enlists. If he can’t go to Afghanistan or wherever Marines are imperiled, Braley said he’ll simply return to civilian life when his current commitment is up.
Braley - a 2004 Sierra High graduate - is currently assigned to Camp Pendleton where he helps wounded Marines adjust to life with their war injuries. He’ll be in Manteca for Sunday’s Memorial Day Weekend Commemoration at Woodward Park where the 8 a.m. Wounded Warrior 5K run/walk named in his honor takes place.
As far as Braley is concerned serving in war in the desert pales into comparison to what Vietnam, Korea and World War II era veterans went through.
“In the desert you just have to worry about heat exhaustion and look out for the enemy,” Braley said.
In the jungles of Vietnam Braley noted soldiers couldn’t often see the enemy who would often move around in tunnels from which they’d open fire on soldiers as they passed.
“These were guys who for the most part didn’t volunteer to serve and put their lives on line for their country that then came home and were spit on,” Braley said.
He noted the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing American soldiers in World War II such as the massive and costly landing at Normandy Beach on D-Day
“I have the utmost respect for those guys,” Braley said of men who served in combat in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Serving his country wasn’t the first thing on his mind when the former Sierra High basketball player decided to join the Navy after graduating form high school.
“In all honesty I wanted to get out of Manteca,” Braley said adding that his life was “pretty messed up” and that he wanted to see the world.
Braley would have joined the Air Force but noted Manteca didn’t have an Air Force recruiter. So he went with his next choice - the Navy.
“Boot camp made me grow up,” Braley said.
And while his wounds - which a generation ago would have been either fatal or at least would have severely handicapped him for the rest of his life - weren’t something he would wish on anyone he would have no qualms about doing it all over again.
Braley said being part of the military and serving his country helped him get his act together. And while he notes that life in general can “suck” there are positive points to it.
The biggest example of that as far as Braley is concerned is his wife Devary who he says is the best thing to ever happen to him.
They’ve been married now for two years.
“She’s stayed by me through it all,” Braley said.
Braley said he wished more people would take time to participate in a Memorial Day weekend event to honor all of those in the past 235 years who have laid down their lives for America and to serve and protect liberty and freedom.
“(Soldiers) are the only reason we are free in a free country and not subjects of the King of England,” Braley said, adding too many people take their freedoms and the bounty of the country for granted.
He noted that Iraqis are - for the most part - impoverished with many not even having indoor plumbing.
Braley said he’s proud to be part of “the one percent of Americans” who has served in the military to protect America and its freedoms.
As for others who have done the same that he has whether it was World War II or Desert Storm, Braley said “they’re my brothers.”
“I plan to one day after I get out to go to a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) post so I can walk in and buy some Vietnam veteran a beer so I can thank him for what he did.”