You hear about incidents like this a lot, but you never realize that it can hit so close to home, said former Kauai resident Christine Martinez, who is spending time with her parents, Marcelino and Francisca Martinez of Hanamaulu.
What happened to your family?
On Nov. 12, 2016 — the day following Veterans Day — I got a call from my sister Marissa. She was quiet and said Sergeant First Class Allan Brown, her husband, was injured at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. She didn’t have any more details than that.
I went on social media, and from what I saw, it was a lot worse than Marissa had said. According to The Washington Post, my brother-in-law was wounded in an attack that killed two U.S. contractors and two soldiers. A Polish soldier was also killed, and 15 other American soldiers, including Sgt. Brown, were injured during a suicide bombing.
The soldiers were killed while preparing for an organized run, and the bomber was standing in a line with Afghan laborers when he detonated a suicide vest. Later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had been planned for months and the intended target was the start of the run.
My brother-in-law had severe wounds because he was the closest to the bomber who came running from the trees. He was about 15 feet away from the bomber when the explosives detonated. “Get my soldiers in ahead of me,” he told the responding medics. His actions saved 14 other soldiers, and I didn’t know they pin the Purple Heart on in the field. He was awarded the Purple Heart that we didn’t know about until it fell from his bag of belongings.
Sgt. Brown was flown to a hospital in Germany, then to the Walter Reed Military Hospital to recover from his wounds. The other two soldiers passed while being transported to a near by Afghan hospital.
How could something like this happen? Sgt. Brown has been deployed for four times and we never thought that we would lose someone so close to us and whom we loved dearly. He always reassured us that he was in a safe zone and the base where he served with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas had layers of security.
Soldiers from Fort Hood had been in Afghanistan since September, 2016, supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel which replaced Operation Enduring Freedom following the end of U.S.-led combat operations.
We would talk to him every day … and that one day he didn’t call, we knew something was wrong.
What took place during his hospitalization?
We all flew to the hospital. All of his family in Hawaii — even my parents who had never experienced such a long flight. The military took care of the costs because they said they needed us to be there — we have the letter we got from them asking us to come.
While we were at the hospital, we became more aware of Sgt. Brown’s injuries. He needed a liver transplant, but by the time we got there, part of his liver was dead, and he had a wound to his abdomen about the size of a small basketball. We were in disbelief. I wanted to cry, but not show fear. There was an American flag next to his door.
We got to meet other families who were at the hospital, and realized that suffering is not just limited to the victims. Everyone was like us — waiting, and praying. People don’t realize just how much a family suffers. A doctor told us that if Sgt. Brown could overcome the infections from his wounds, he would be all right.
My sister Marissa was courageous through everything. She cried — we all cried — but she never broke down. Things were happening quickly. There were decisions that had to be made on a second’s notice. I don’t think she slept through the nearly month-long stay at the hospital.
President Barack Obama came to visit the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. This was such a great honor to have met him before he left office. He looked at us and knew we were from Hawaii. We had Hawaiian music playing because Sgt. Brown loved Hawaii — Kauai — and the Hawaiian music. President Obama came over and in real local style, started talking with us.
How did your family get to know Sgt. Brown?
Sgt. Brown, 46, of Takoma Park, Maryland, first served at Fort Shafter in Honolulu before being transferred to Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, then to Fort Hood, Texas.
He got married to Marissa, a Kauai High School 1992 graduate, on July 1, 2000, at the Waimea Plantation Cottages after meeting in college. If he were alive today, this would have marked their 17th wedding anniversary. They were planning to spend the summer at the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Mana cottages following his deployment. They really loved Kauai and would spend a lot of time here, visiting with family and my parents, and just enjoying the beauty of the island.
Fourth of July was always a special occasion for both of them. He loved fireworks, and while living in Hawaii before being moved to Fort Hood, they would watch the Friday night fireworks from Magic Island at the Ala Moana Park.
How ironic that on the day he passed from his injuries — Dec. 6, 2016 — he was draped with a patriotic quilt with fireworks created by volunteers who honored veterans and wounded soldiers.
His passing changed our lives forever. The last conversation I had with him was about my daughter Abigail. She was one of his favorite nieces and they would talk about school, her studies, and their favorite pastime was going together to the library and sharing stories about the world and history.
Abby was part of his final journey to the Arlington National Cemetery, being the baby they never had. She got to place a flower during his celebration of life as he was laid to rest among the other 45,000 headstones, and the late President John Kennedy.
When Sgt. Brown was stationed at Fort Hood, we went to visit and they took Abby on a safari. Her favorite memory was when Al was eating a banana and placed the peel inside a paper bag. A camel came into the car and ate the whole bag.
Nov. 12, 2016, changed our lives, forever. It was like a normal day until my sister called, and as I watched all the developments online, my gut went into my heart. It was like watching Sept. 11. Everything became real when we flew out to the hospital.
He truly is part of history now and was honored by the president of the United States, the mayor of Maryland, and the governor of Maryland who proclaimed a day for SFC Allan Brown.
All of this has given me a new respect for the military, and the families of those who serve with the Armed Forces. You can hear the reports, but now, everything hits home because it was one of our loved ones — our family. One of Sgt. Brown’s top priorities was family.
This incident was a senseless act of violence. We hear it every day in the news, not knowing that we are affected by this. It hits us close to home that someone so close to us and having Hawaii ties lost the love of her life. This goes to show that even if we live on this small island, we are part of the bigger part of the world. We often tend to forget that things like this would never happen to us.
We will continue to live his legacy.
Christine Martinez’s daughter, Abigail Gadol, is a member of Girl Scout Troop 823, which recently participated in the Flag Day retirement ceremony, the Memorial Day service hosted by the Kauai Veterans Council, and the Safeway food drive benefiting the Hawaii Foodbank, Kauai Branch.