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Zach Brown – Facebook Status – April 3, 2022

“George Kemper for Illinois, please spread this, former soldier of mine, great candidate.”

“George Kemper! This guys is legit, former soldier of mine, you want a real person vote Kemper”

A father figure is one of, if not…. the most important BEING in a man’s life. 

They provide us with examples of how to live. They teach us how to be a strong friend, sibling, son, husband, and father. And while we do not always appreciate their presence in our lives, as we grow and mature, we realize how truly important they are. 

Even if they depart, they serve as guides for us as we strive to be men, like them. Men who were loyal friends, devoted husbands, and loving fathers.

Throughout our lives, our view of father evolves. 

When we were young, we saw him as our first real-life superhero. As teenagers, we butt heads. And as we matured, we saw him as a friend. Throughout this process, the one thing a father always remained is, A GUIDE.

Imagine, if you will, joining the military. 

In the early days of your training, you may see your drill sergeant as a larger-than-life figure. 

He tells you stories about his previous deployments to faraway lands. These tales both frighten and excite you, but you hope to be like him one day. And while you enjoy these anecdotes, you wonder if you will ever be capable of following in his footsteps and carrying on the mantle. 

This is our experience with our father, or father figure, in childhood. We can hardly believe that we too will be as big as them, physically, mentally, and spiritually. We cannot fathom achieving what they have or experiencing a life like the one they have led. 

They amaze us.

As you are taught the basics of being a soldier, and what is expected of you during your

service, you begin to question your sergeant. Maybe not to his face, but a growing thought of question slowly works its way to your brain. 

After all, while he has taught you everything you know, you are a smart man who can think for himself. Perhaps, there are techniques that your teacher has missed? 

Perhaps there are aspects that you can do better? 

This is the equivalent of becoming a teenager. Yes, our father, or father figure, has shown us the ropes and taught us important lessons, but times have changed, and we “know better.” He is no longer the superhero that we once knew. Instead, he is now a nagging thorn in our side, holding us back from greatness and the pleasures of life.

Eventually, the time comes to deploy overseas, to put into action all that you have been taught. 

The adventure begins. It is during this period that you form an unbreakable bond with

your sergeant. You witness firsthand the struggles, camaraderie, and excitement that come from war. And even though you may have questioned his methods in the past, you understand that there is indeed a method to his madness.

This is going through life as a young man. A man who is building up his own life, and

hopefully, one day his own family. We see why we were taught certain lessons. The morals that were burned into our very soul begin to make sense. 

Hard work and dedication are no longer just empty words BUT they hold meaning and substance. 

Because finally, we have learned that one’s character is the most important part of who we are.

Finally, you return home from war. 

If you were LUCKY, your sergeant returns with you, though this is not guaranteed. 

Regardless, it is now time for you to move forward and to carry on his legacy. You are given our own squad of young and eager recruits who must be molded into strong soldiers. And it is at this moment that you realize the cycle has come full circle.

As we grow older and start a family of our own, we APPRECIATE ALL that our father has done for us. And regarding the things that he did not, we strive to do better than him. No matter what, we have learned from our father, and pass that knowledge down to the next generation.

Sergeant Brown as I first met him, was not only a dear friend, but SFC Zachary Brown was a mentor, and in ways, a father figure.  As a testament to his character, I should add that I am not the only person who saw Zach as a leader, mentor, or father figure.  

In fact, he was also a drill sergeant, touching the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of young soldiers during their first months in the Army, which is why I included the previous analogy.  Many who served under him felt the same as I and should stand as a testament to the type of man he was.

As a brand new private, I experienced all the traditional hazing that takes place.  

In some ways it is fun and builds character, and in other ways the miserableness builds camaraderie.  What Sergeant Brown made sure of though, was that it NEVER BUILT RESENTMENT.  

He found the balance.  

TO BE CONTINUED>>>>>>>>>> (Part 1 of 2)

PART 2/2 ……

During the “workday,” he would have us running gun drills, doing pushups or duck walk when we screwed up, all while calling us every creative name imaginable.  But during the weekend, he would invite soldiers over to his house for drinks in the garage.

As I got to know him better, I learned that he had a reason for everything he did. 

 He pushed us to our limits because he had already seen the brutality of war; and he knew how to prepare us for it.  I also saw that he genuinely cared for every soldier under his command.  Two instances stand out the most that best demonstrate how much he truly cared about his soldiers.

The first occurred during a multiday training exercise in the Kentucky woods.  We were simulating an operation against a peer-military and as the primary mortar squad, our goal was to hit enemy positions while remaining undetected.  To do this, we snuck through the woods carrying all the food, water, and equipment needed, adding up to around 120 pounds for every member of our squad.  

After a couple days of moving and shooting, we were hot, tired, and running low on water.  

So, Sergeant Brown attempted to schedule a meet up for us to top off on any supplies that we were running low on.  He called our battalion commander on the radio and conducted a conversation that I will never forget.

“This is Thunder-7 (Sergeant Brown’s callsign), we are nearly out of water and need a resupply before conducting anymore fire missions at future locations.  However, we are dug in and have secured a desirable location to hit the enemy while remaining undetected.”

“Thunder-7, this is No Slack-6 (our battalion commander’s callsign).  We need you to move to new location.”

“No Slack-6, I am not sure if you understood my previous message, but we have a desirable location for future fire missions and are low on water.  If you want me to tell my men to move another half dozen miles you can either resupply us with water or schedule a convoy to pick us up and drop us off.”

There was about a five-minute pause after that.

 We all looked at each other in awe.  

Did Sergeant Brown just give the battalion commander the middle finger and tell him to kick rocks?  We did not think that this was actually going to work and began mentally and physically preparing for another long movement.  

Then, a voice on the radio came through.

“Thunder-7, we have reviewed your current situation and have deemed your location viable for the remainder of the operation.  A supply drop is on the way.”

Out of the blue, one of our guys blurted out, “Holy shit! You just told the lieutenant colonel to go fuck himself! And it worked!”  

For the next couple of days, we stayed put, completed our fire missions, and had as good of a time as one can have in the backwoods of Kentucky in June.  After that training exercise, every single member of our unit understood that Sergeant Brown put his men’s welfare above all else.  

Could we have made another movement with the little water we had?  Yes. 

But was it needed, and was the reward worth more than the risk?  No.

Sergeant Brown saw this and made the right call for both the mission and his troops.  

After all, if he had not stood up for us and decided to be a “yes man”, he ran the risk of one of us having a heat stroke or injuring ourselves, which in turn would also jeopardize the overall mission.  He showed that he knew how to find the balance between the mission and the men in tactical situations.  

And for that, he gained all of our respect.

The second story is far more personal.  We were in the field for another training exercise, nearly a year after the previous story, in mid-March.  It was a relatively lax exercise, so we had a decent amount of time between fire missions.  The date was March 15th, my mother’s birthday, and like any good son, I decided to give her a quick call before heating up an MRE for breakfast.  

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.

“Hi Mom, I just wanted to quickly say happy birthday before we get busy today.”  

Without even acknowledging that it was her birthday, my mother says, “I was just about to call you.  Dad is in the hospital again and this time it is looking like THE one.”  

My father was not the poster child for a healthy life, prior to this call, he had had, four heart attacks, a quadruple bypass surgery, multiple strokes, diabetes, two amputated toes, stents in his heart, and skin cancer.  His trips to the hospital had nearly become routine every year or two.  

So, if my mother was telling me that this was it, things were REALLY BAD!

Immediately after hanging up with my mother, I informed Sergeant Brown.  Without hesitation, he told me to leave my gear where it was, hop in one of our HUMVs, and that he would drive me back to base.  Upon arriving back at the barracks and our battalion headquarters, Brown had me rush to my room, pack whatever I needed, and to get on the road while he completed and submitted the necessary paperwork. 

Because of him, I went from being in the field training, to being on the road headed home in less than an hour.  And because of him, I was able to make it to from Kentucky to Chicago and say goodbye to my father before he died.

I was originally given a week of emergency leave, but as that time came closer to the end, he called and asked if I needed a few more days.  I told him that I greatly appreciated the offer and would take him up on it if it was allowed.  Sergeant Brown, not being one to care about the rules told me, “It is not allowed, but this time with your family is more important than any training we have.  I’ll cover for you.”  

Once again, he demonstrated that at times, the men are more important than the mission.

After returning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Brown, and I developed a friendship that went beyond being fellow soldiers.  He invited me over to his home for a BBQ on weekends and I learned that his father passed away when he was young.  It all started to make sense about how he reacted when he first heard the news.  He cared not only because I was one of his soldiers, but because he knew exactly what I was going through.

Unfortunately, one cannot get too comfortable with the friends they make while in the military.  

This is because, given the nature of it, we are all eventually called to different assignments.  For Sergeant Brown, it was Germany.  I remember sitting on the tailgate of a truck in their driveway before he and his family left Fort Campbell.  We drank and shared stories well into the early morning.  We were sad to see him go but were excited for the new opportunities that he would have.  And of course, we all assumed that we would see him in a few years when he came back to the States.

Some people say that if they had known that that one event was the last time that they were going to spend with a friend or family member, they would have done or said more.  I can honestly say that even if I had known that that was the last time, I was ever going to have a beer with Zach, I would not have changed a thing.  

I am glad that the last memory I have with him was having a few too many beers and making a few too many crude jokes.  Because although he was technically my “boss”, he was far more than that to each and every one of us.

Sergeant First Class Zachary Brown was taken from US.  He was taken from us by the demons that haunted HIM.  And he was taken from us because those who were meant to lead him, FAILED TO ACT and treat Zach the way he treated his soldiers.  You see Zach knew that he was hurting, and he told his leadership that he needed help.  But rather than do all they could for him, his “leaders” ignored his pleas and did the bare minimum to aid him.  

They placed the man last, and because of their negligence and lack of empathy, we lost the greatest leader that I have ever personally known.

So why do I compare an individual like Sergeant Brown as a father figure?  It is because he was EXACTLY that while I knew him in the Army.  He taught me personal responsibility.  He taught me how to grow and push myself.  And he taught me that people are the most important resource one has.  As I continue my life, I try to take these lessons to better myself, but more importantly, those around me.  

Because that is the type of man he was.  

Everything he did, he did for others.

---George Kemper (R) nominee for District 12, Illinois House of Representatives 2022

January 24, 2023

“As promised, I am donating the remaining campaign funds ($5020.50) to the HunterSeven Foundation.

Thank you to all who supported me throughout the campaign. Your financial support will now be used to fight cancer and support those who have been exposd to toxic chemicals during their service in the military.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. If today went down as one of the last conversations, you had with a beloved individual would you be satisfied with that memory?

  1. What ethos are you currently living your life by? Any you want to change?


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