By Cheri Dragos-Pritchard
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets attended an expo hosted by Team Little Rock on April 20 at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Amongst the crowd of teenagers stood a young man with a different story.
Outwardly, Braedyn Durant looked no different than the cadets and carried himself with the same pride. One noticeable difference, was the small group he was with. He was accompanied by his mentor from Second Chance Youth Ranch and a Department of Human Services representative, while the cadets were escorted by their cadre and accompanied by numerous other cadets.
Braedyn’s group was small because he is currently in the state foster care system. That doesn’t stop him from dreaming, and he does hope to find a safe, stable home someday.
When one of his mentors asked where he’d like to visit, if he could go to work with a parent, he said he’d want go to the Air Force base.
“I’ve wanted to join the Air Force since I was seven years old,” said Braedyn.
His mentor quickly reached out to Little Rock AFB Public Affairs and asked if he could shadow an Airman for a day. As it turned out, the JROTC Expo was scheduled to take place and the day’s activities were a perfect fit for Braedyn.
“Most kids get the opportunity to experience ‘bring your child to work day’ or at least see where their parents work; foster children aren’t afforded that,” said Danni Barlow, Arkansas Department of Health Services adoptions community engagement director. “Events like today give children like Braedyn the chance to see there is a big world out there with so many opportunities.”
During the expo, Braedyn, along with more than 450 JROTC cadets, was given a day to interact with TLR Airmen and tour a few facilities to see the Combat Airlift mission in action. They all had the opportunity to try on night vision goggles, don bioenvironmental suits, talk to recruiters and learn about programs that help Airmen with their off-duty life. In addition to the many exhibits and demonstrations, a few top performers from each school, along with Braedyn, were given an incentive ride in a C-130J.
“The expo was a great opportunity for students to see a variety of career options and I think that days like this have a huge influence on an individual who may be unsure about military life,” said 1st Lt. David Carruth, JROTC Expo coordinator. “The event may have given Braedyn, and some of the other students, just the push they needed to pursue a career in the armed forces.”
At the end of the long day, the cadets all expressed their excitement and said they had a great time. Most were excited to tell their other friends and family about their experiences. When Braedyn’s day came to an end, he didn’t go back and share his experience with his mom or dad, instead he would tell his story to the five bunkmates and house parents he lives with.
Braedyn remained humble about his flight in a C-130J, the one-on-one time he spent with a 19th Security Forces Squadron combat arms training and maintenance member, and learning about the Explosive Ordinance Disposal mission – his favorite part of the day.
“I’m not one to brag. That’s not who I am,” said Braedyn. “But if they ask, I’ll tell them how my day was and what I did.”
Some students attending the JROTC Expo plan to join the military, like those students, Braedyn hopes the Air Force is part of his future, too. Although part of his desire to join is a bit different, one of his reasons is the same; it’s a family tradition.
“My grandfathers on my mother’s and father’s side were both in the military for some time,” Braedyn said. “I would like to carry on that tradition and create a life better than what I’ve had (growing up).”