Georgia chaplain helps Kentucky Guardsmen with healing

By Master Sgt. Gerard Brown, Georgia National Guard Public Affairs

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Chaplain (Capt.) Jon Pirtle and Chaplain (Capt.) Shane Blankenship with the Georgia National Guard are recognized by Chaplain (Maj.) Bill Draper for their assistance during Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bradley’s (right) rehabilitation from a paralyzing accident. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Gerard Brown)

ATLANTA, Ga. — One team one fight, or Soldiers taking care of Soldiers are common phrases used in the military, especially when it comes to aiding different units or even different branches during difficult situations. More often, this reference is used when comparing the military’s fight against a common enemy, but in this case, two National Guard states came together to aid Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bradley with his fight to walk again.

Bradley was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. The severity of the injury left only one option for Bradley and his family and that was to seek treatment at the Shepherd Center located in Downtown Atlanta. The facility is one of the nation’s top rehabilitation hospitals for both spinal cord and brain injury and was the best option for Bradley to be able to walk again.

A call from the Kentucky National Guard came to the Chaplain’s office at the Clay National Guard Center to see if the Georgia National Guard had a Chaplain that could assist one of their Soldiers.

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Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bradley (center) speaks with chaplains from the Georgia and Kentucky National Guard during rehabilitation in Atlanta, Ga., Aug. 24, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Gerard Brown)

Without a moment’s hesitation, Chaplain Pirtle stepped forward to assist the Soldier during this rough period. Interesting enough, Pirtle attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, while also being a Chaplain Candidate in the Kentucky National Guard.

Injuries similar to those incurred by Bradley normally take two years to fully heal and as of 90 days, he is showing great progress.

“Bradley has come a long way,” said Maj. Bill Draper, full time operations chaplain for the Kentucky Army National Guard. “He has never thought of himself as a victim and has always had a this is what I am going to do type of spirit.”

At the time of the unfortunate accident, Bradley was a recruiter for the Kentucky National Guard. Although currently working as a recruiter for the Guard, his previous jobs included both Infantry and Field Radio Operator. The end of this year will mark his 18th year of military service to his country, 15 of those years were in the Kentucky National Guard and the remaining three were during his enlistment in the Marine Corps. The road ahead will be a long one for Bradley, but his goal is to walk out of the hospital on his own.

During his multiple visits to the Shepherd Center, Pirtle spent time with Bradley during rehabilitation sessions as well as praying with him and his family, but it did not end there. Pirtle went beyond his technician duties and continued to spend time with both Bradley and his family after hours. By doing this, he was able to clearly see the improvements made by Bradley in re-learning basic motor skills such as, being able to hold a fork again, dress himself and to stand on his own.

“I always wanted to encourage Sgt. 1st Class Bradley, but every time I left I found myself encouraged by his spirit, his attitude and mostly his passion to overcome.” said Chaplain Pirtle, regional care chaplain for the Georgia National Guard. “I often felt I was ministered to, just by being around both him and his wife and their journey to recovery.”

“Obtaining my independence during this process was one of the most rewarding moments,” said Bradley.

Pirtle was recognized by the Kentucky National Guard for his selfless service in taking care of one of their own. He was awarded the Kentucky Commendation Medal and was commissioned an Honorable Kentucky Colonel, by the Governor.

“As I have gone through this process, it has been refreshing to see someone in an Army uniform, because it made me feel like I was right back in the military,” said Bradley. “The banana bread that Chaplain Pirtle’s wife brought was also amazing and meant a lot.”

Pirtle’s wife also answered the call and wanted to be part of the rehabilitation process.

“Chris’s wife is part of the Guard just as my wife is part of the Guard,” said Pirtle. “These two Guard families are wedded just based on the virtue of both of us being in the guard.”

Though Bradley will be leaving from the Shepherd Center soon to head back to Kentucky to continue his rehabilitation, the bond that was formed between the two will continue despite the distance.