By Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
Task Force Duke
, Afghanistan March 18, 2011 – The game of catch, a ritual enjoyed by countless fathers and sons over the years, is fondly looked back on by many not only as a game, but also as a bonding experience.
For Army Staff Sgt. Brian C. Reddington, an air traffic controller assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke,
his memories of playing catch with his father also are tinged with sadness.
Army Sgt. 1st Class John Stephens, a combat medic and the man Reddington considers his father, was killed in action
March 15, 2007, in , when a shaped charge was thrown at his convoy traveling back to Forward Operating Base Speicher. A veteran with 21 years of service, he was on his second deployment, and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. Tikrit, Iraq
Reddington was stationed at
, when he heard the news. Fort Rucker, Ala.
“You can never prepare yourself for something like that,” he said. “It happens to other people.”
The last time he saw his father was two months before Stephens deployed from
Despite the loss of a father who had been so influential in raising him, Reddington chooses to remember the timeless memories and lessons passed along. Through them all, the one constant was the American pastime. Fort Riley, Kan.
“Baseball,” Reddington said. “That’s what we did. He was always my coach up until my junior year” of high school.
Reddington smiled as he remembered one of his baseball games when, as a 14-year-old, he was pitching for a team coached by his father. After being hit hard early by the opposition, his father and coach was on the verge of taking him out, something undoubtedly hard to stomach for both parties involved.
“Just give me one more inning,” Reddington recalled saying, wanting one last chance to work his way out of trouble by himself.
His father ultimately left him in, Reddington pitched his way out of the jam, and the game ended happily. But, like many aspects of life touched by baseball, the greatest lessons had nothing to do with the final score or individual statistics.
“[It was] the first time in our relationship that he really trusted me,” Reddington said, noting that it was perhaps that moment when a father finally saw a son’s confidence and abilities to overcome the odds against him.
Stephens and Reddington’s mother married shortly before Reddington turned 6. A younger brother and sister completed the family. Growing up, his father’s military service was something he looked up to, but never was a foregone conclusion that he would follow. Once he decided to enlist, however, the choice was clear.
“When I decided to join, it made the Army the only option,” he said.
With nine years of service under his belt and on his second deployment, Reddington is leaning toward making the Army a career. It undoubtedly will be talked about at length with his wife, Tina, as was his reenlistment decision after his father died.
“It was an eye-opener to what could really happen,” Reddington said. “Ultimately it was continuing what he started. I reenlisted because I wanted to follow through.”
With leave slated for June, Reddington is looking forward to seeing his wife and their three children: 6-year-old Grace, 5-year-old Caleb and baby Jacob, who was born March 9. The children will never get the chance to meet their grandfather, but it doesn’t mean his legacy won’t be passed on. Reddington said he looks forward to sharing with his own children the same timeless advice he heard from his dad that remains with him today.
“The thing I carry with me from what he said is, ‘No matter what you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability.’”
Four years have passed since his father’s death in
. As to what he would like his own children to remember about their grandfather, Reddington paused a moment, finally paying the ultimate compliment. Iraq
“He was a great father.”