29 August 2009

Pfc. Brian M. Wolverton

via Ventura County Star

A jet carrying the remains of Army Private 1st Class Brian M. Wolverton of Oak Park taxied slowly on the tarmac at the Van Nuys Airport on Thursday morning.

The 21-year-old soldier’s family — his mother, Miriam, father, Christopher, brother Michael, 17, and grandmother Silvia Yin — stood in a row with Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Brentlinger, a casualty assistance officer, at their side. Brentlinger, members of an Army honor guard and other military personnel saluted as the plane came to a stop and its rumbling engines were quieted.

The 2006 Oak Park High School graduate was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 20 after insurgents attacked his unit. He died from wounds suffered by indirect fire. Funeral services are scheduled Saturday in Westlake Village.

“His heart is in the right place,” Miriam Wolverton said about her son before the plane arrived. She said he often helped younger soldiers in his unit get out of jams with his own advice and advice culled from his mother. “He likes to help people,” she said.

Meanwhile, 38 members of the volunteer Patriot Guard Riders Southern California Chapter, many of them war veterans, waited near their motorcycles to help escort the fallen solider home.

Wolverton served with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. He completed combat training in June.

‘A way of honoring Brian’

The call sign for a plane carrying a fallen soldier is “hero,” and thus the flights are known as hero flights. In February, an 18-year military ban on news media covering the return of war dead was lifted. Under the change in policy, the military grants access only with the consent of the service member’s family. Miriam and Christopher Wolverton gave their permission for coverage of Brian’s hero flight home.

“It’s a way of honoring Brian,” said Christopher Wolverton, who served three years in the Army. “It’s a free country and the story of our soldiers and the way they are treated, I think it’s a story to be told.”

The hatch of the Falcon 20 cargo jet opened, a member of the honor guard walked to the side of the plane. Wolverton’s casket, draped with the flag, was escorted by a member of his unit.

At Brentlinger’s signal, a black hearse pulled into position.

Wolverton’s casket was lowered from the plane onto a stand. The honor guard surrounded the casket and escorted it to the hearse, as family members wiped away tears.

Wolverton received an associate’s degree in 2008 from Moorpark College. Cultural anthropology sparked his interest and he hoped to major in the subject, Christopher Wolverton said.

In high school, his son ran track, specializing in hurdles but also participating in relays and sprints. As a child he spent six years playing baseball in the Agoura Pony League. While Wolverton attended Moorpark College, he returned to Oak Park High School as an assistant track coach.

A number of Wolverton’s friends told his parents how charming he was. His former track coach told his mother that her oldest son acted mature for his age. To his parents, Wolverton was a typical teenager. His mother joked with him, asking why he didn’t turn on the charm at home.

Wolverton also loved video games, often playing them with his younger brother.

“He was mostly like a friend to me,” Michael said.

The family would travel to Mammoth Mountain once or twice a year to ski.

“Brian had gotten quite good over the years,” Christopher Wolverton said. “He could zip down anything.”

Wolverton was a fourth-generation member of the military. Although his father, grandfather and great-grandfather served, Wolverton’s announcement of joining the military one day in January came as somewhat of a surprise. He had talked about it casually.

He reported for basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia.

“I was very proud of him,” Christopher Wolverton said.

Escort of Patriot Guard Riders

Once the casket was placed in the hearse, military personnel snapped into a salute as civilians placed their right hands over their hearts. Brentlinger escorted the Wolverton family to the hearse. The black limousine would take them to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park.

Outside the aviation facility, members of the Patriot Guard Riders put on their helmets and prepared for the procession. The group was invited by the family to participate. Craig “Gunney” Donor, the chapter’s captain, said the group was happy to be of service to the families of fallen soldiers and to show their respect.

“They are never easy,” Donor said of the processions. “It’s very emotional for us whenever we see a young person’s life cut short.”

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