BREMERTON, Wash. — For six years, the Kitsap Navy has welcomed home its "heroes" from deployments with Army or Marine Corps units overseas. They're called individual augmentees because they go alone.
This year, 178 served in places such as Kuwait, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Bahrain and Guantánamo Bay, but only 177 came back. Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Brazas was shot and killed May 30 in Panjway, Afghanistan, while helping a soldier climb into a helicopter during an ambush. The dog handler from Greensboro, N.C., was 26.
Brazas' wife, Allie, and Brazas family members from across the country were among those honored during a ceremony themed "Rebuilding" Thursday night at Jackson Park Community Center.
Allie Brazas, also in the Navy, stood somberly on stage while her story, which she had taped earlier, piped into the assembly hall and slides of the young couple flashed across a screen. Two-year-old daughter Addisen played with a tiny cousin at her feet.
The couple were married March 3 at Kitsap County Courthouse. Sean left for training three weeks later. He had been in Afghanistan a month before being shot.
"My husband paid the ultimate price," Allie Brazas said. "He was an incredible man, doting father, amazing husband and devoted handler. He was an impeccable person, always putting others before himself. He is a hero, our hero. But he was taken from this earth way too early. We had plans for the future, but God had other plans."
Capt. Pete Dawson, Naval Base Kitsap commander, said "Rebuilding" was the perfect theme.
"We lost one of our best, but he will never be forgotten," Dawson said, "or the excellent service of all our other IA deployers here tonight. This event is for you. Together we can all start rebuilding."
Guest speaker Lt. Lindsay McQuade, a nurse at Naval Hospital Bremerton, made back-to-back deployments to Kandahar, Afghanistan. When she returned to NATO Role 3 Trauma Hospital, people asked if she forgot something, "and in a way I did," she said. Something was missing. She said she wrestled every day during her first deployment about why we were even there. She found the answer in her return — to make a difference, even if for just one person.
McQuade braided one soldier's hair after an improvised explosive devise peppered her face, leaving her nearly unrecognizable. The soldier said she felt pretty when she accepted her Purple Heart. A 9-year-old Afghan girl sustained a brain injury from a gunshot. At the end of McQuade's tour, she held the girl's hand and the two walked around the hospital grounds, something nobody ever expected.
"My second tour became a chance to seek out the challenges rather than simply be bowled over by them," she said.
It's not easy being an individual augmentee. With just three week's training, a Navy sailor is expected to fully function as an Army soldier. Then, nearly a year later, they return home and try to reintegrate into a family and community that have learned to get along without them.
"Each IA sailor makes innumerable contributions to the mission they are assigned," McQuade said. "No matter what unit, or what job was held, Navy IAs perform above and beyond expectations, which explains why the Army relies so heavily on us to help complete their mission."
Individual augmentees were called on stage Thursday with their families, which were honored for their sacrifices. They received homemade "Quilts of Valor," letters of appreciation and handshakes with Dawson and Capt. Scott Hogan, Navy Region Northwest chief of staff.
Going back to 2005, the Navy has provided 108,000 IAs, a mix of active-duty and reserves, said Lt. Dan Day of U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. About 5,474 are deployed now.
The Heroes' Welcome ceremonies are put on by Naval Base Kitsap Fleet and Family Support Center.