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South King firefighter Bryant prepares for deployment to Iraq

First Lt. Robert Bryant of the Army National Guard’s 81st regiment smiles from the driver’s seat of a South King Fire Department fire truck with his wife, Monika. Bryant will be leaving Monika and their 7-year-old daughter this month for a year-long deployment in Iraq. - Joshua Lynch/The Mirror
First Lt. Robert Bryant of the Army National Guard’s 81st regiment smiles from the driver’s seat of a South King Fire Department fire truck with his wife, Monika. Bryant will be leaving Monika and their 7-year-old daughter this month for a year-long deployment in Iraq.
— image credit: Joshua Lynch/The Mirror

The dangers Robert Bryant faces as a South King Fire and Rescue firefighter do not worry his family — but his upcoming Iraq tour of duty with the Army National Guard does.

“I don’t worry about the firefighter part,” said Bryant’s wife, Monika.

Bryant has been a military man for 13 years and a firefighter for six. He began his career as a firefighter in 2002 and married Monika in 2003. On Aug. 18, Bryant will depart for his first tour of duty since he began his family and firefighting career.

Tours of duty

Bryant, 35, joined the U.S. Army as a teenager growing up in Detroit.

“I graduated high school and two weeks later I was gone,” he said. “I originally went in for the college money.”

His first tour of duty took place shortly after he joined the Army. In 1992, at age 19, he was deployed to Bahrain, located east of Saudi Arabia. Three years later he was sent to Kuwait. While in the Army, he was once stationed at Fort Lewis. He grew to appreciate Washington state and after retiring from active duty in 1997, he remained in the area.

In 2003, Bryant enlisted in the Army National Guard. He trains with the guard two weeks out of each year and dedicates one weekend per month to his soldier duties.

“I joined the Army National Guard after Sept. 11,” Bryant said. “I felt a sense of duty to serve my country, even if it was on a part-time basis.”

It has been 13 years since Bryant has served his country.

“Everything has changed, the whole landscape,” he said.

The Iraq War is unlike what Bryant has experienced in the past, and his duties will be different than those performed in Bahrain or Kuwait. He will spend one year in Tall Abu Bilad, near Baghdad. As a 1st Lt. in the Army National Guard’s 81st Brigade Heavy Combat Team, Bryant will deliver supplies, such as water and fuel, to fellow soldiers.

He spent 30 days training for the Iraq War with the brigade in Yakima earlier this summer. He will depart Federal Way for Fort McCoy, Wis., where he will undergo more training before deploying along with the brigade’s approximately 3,000 military men and women to Iraq in October. Bryant will be away from his wife and their 7-year-old daughter, Bailey, for 12 months.

“We always knew this would come, before the orders (were issued),” Monika said. “It’s not totally a shock.”

Preparing to leave

Bryant said Monday he planned to spend his last week at home with his family, but that his schedule would not vary much from any other day. Both he and Monika wore smiles and laughed often as they lightly poked fun at each other while they discussed Bryant’s upcoming tour of duty. If the couple let the tour interfere with their everyday lives and marriage, it does not show. They are too busy enjoying the little joys of life.

“Just being together, sitting on the couch watching TV, is really great right now,” Monika said.

Bryant plans to spend a daddy-daughter day with Bailey before he leaves. The couple have been honest with their daughter. She knows Bryant has been summoned to serve his country. Children know more than they are given credit for, Monika said. Though young, Bailey is aware of the war.

“She knows about the war in Iraq and knows daddy’s a soldier,” Monika said.

Back at home

When Bryant is in Iraq, he will be able to contact his family through e-mail and letters. Still, it will be hard at times for the mother and daughter duo to not have their hero at home.

“If we feel like crying, we are going to cry,” Monika said.

The two are proud of Bryant. He sees himself as a normal guy and doesn’t think he should be treated any differently than his peers, he said. But his wife knows he is looked up to.

“He hates it, but I call him my hero,” Monika said. “He’s given to the fire department and his country.”

As a South King Fire and Rescue firefighter, Bryant most enjoys helping his community along with the unpredictable nature of his job, he said. He teaches the “stop, drop and roll” fire safety method to school children and educates high schoolers on the dangers of drinking and driving. The students jokingly call him Shrek in reference to DreamWorks Animation’s ogre with a massive stature and gentle force.

When Bryant returns home, he plans to pick up where he left off. He will continue his firefighting duties with South King Fire and Rescue.

“It’s important to support him and keep him in everyone’s prayers,” South King Fire and Rescue spokeswoman Donna Conner said.

The same goes for every soldier with the United States military.

“Regardless of how you feel about this war, keep the people over there in mind,” Monika said. “You don’t have to agree (with the war).”

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