Brian and Melissa Brigman moved to Gardner in April 2012 seeking a fresh start. Life handed the couple several new beginnings. Melissa hopes the most recent commencement – reintegrating into family life following Brian’s six-month deployment – will be the last new beginning for awhile.
“That was hard for both of us,” Melissa explained. “After six months, we are just getting back in the swing of things. Everything is pretty much back to the way it was.”
When Brian, a sergeant with a U.S. Army Reserve unit at New Century AirCenter, volunteered to go to Kuwait, the couple had only lived in Gardner for a little over a year. They moved from Wichita to Gardner in April 2012.
“Wichita was kind of a life-sucker,” Melissa said. “We moved, and everything has been wonderful.”
It was difficult to leave their children from previous relationships behind. The couple has three children, who live in the Wichita area – Liberty, 11; Olivia, 10; and Brian Junior, 7.
Brian knew Gardner could be his home when he saw Gambino’s Pizza. He used to eat Gambino’s Pizza regularly as a high school student in Halstead, Kan., so the restaurant feels like a little piece of his childhood.
Brian moved the family to the Kansas City area while Melissa was in the hospital giving birth to their son.
“I moved all of our stuff up here while she was still in the hospital,” Brian said.
Two-year-old Nathanial was underweight at birth, and Melissa and the new baby spent more than seven weeks in an intensive care unit in Wichita before they were transferred to a Kansas City hospital. Nathanial was diagnosed with Prader Willi Syndrome, a genetic condition that is associated with an extreme and insatiable appetite.
“His body can’t process calories,” Brian said.
As the couple adjusted to life with a newborn with special needs and a new hometown, Brian was adjusting to his new job at New Century. The soldier works full-time as a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves through the army’s active guard reserve (AGR) program.
“The AGR program is the best kept secret in the army,” Brian said. “I get to live in podunk, Kansas, but with full-time army benefits.”
He’d served in the army once before. He spent a year stationed in Guantanomo Bay, Cuba shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. He spent another year back-filling for active duty soldiers at Ft. Riley. Brian left the service in 2004 to pursue a career in aircraft maintenance and manufacturing.
When the economy tanked, Brian was once again looking for a fresh start. He re-enlisted in the reserves, this time with a goal of earning his combat patch.
Shortly after rejoining the service, Brian met Melissa. They married, had a baby, and moved to Gardner. And then, Brian was offered the chance to earn his combat patch. A unit stationed in Kuwait needed a supply sergeant. The mission would require that Melissa and the new baby go it alone in a new town for six months.
“It was a voluntary deployment,” Melissa said. “He talked to me first about it. We both agreed it would be better for us in the long run.”
But Melissa was worried. She could count on one hand the number of people she knew in her new community.
“I was really worried, because I only had one person really here in Gardner that was a friend and that’s my neighbor,” she said. Everything was good for the most part. But it’s still a difficult thing to have your husband so far away. It was a big change.”
Melissa would come to rely on Nathanial’s therapists and dietician as a form of support during Brian’s absence.
Brian came home on Feb. 24.
Melissa was nervous about the homecoming.
“I had butterflies in my tummy the whole way to the airport,” she said. “When he finally came out of the doors, I just went to him. I gave him a big hug. Nathanial wouldn’t let him go. It was a great feeling.”
And now, the family is starting fresh again as they re-adjust to life together again.
At first, Brian said readjusting to being home was a challenge.
“Everybody has the expectation. You have this dream of what it’s going to be like,” he said. “And then you have the reality. I just don’t make the expectation so high that others can’t make it.”
Melissa tried to give Brian his space at first, but that wasn’t working.
“I was giving him his space and he thought that I was not happy that he was back,” she said.