Thursday, June 14, 2007

Brian M. Long dies 'of wounds suffered from an explosive ordnance'

CHEYENNE - Before Sunday night, Lynn Curtiss could turn on the TV and know that somewhere among the images of death and fighting in Iraq was a little bit of goodness.

"My son was trying to help the people over there," Curtiss said. "He wanted their lives to be better."

Curtiss' son, Staff Sgt. Brian M. Long, of Burns, died Sunday in an explosion in Baghdad. He was 32.

Long leaves behind a wife of eight years, Brenda Long, and the couple's three children: Sydney, 9, Shelby, 3, and Sage, 1.

It was clear from a young age that Long had a good heart, his family said.

Having no father around, he was quick to stick up for his younger sister, Kristina Sheets, of Cheyenne, and help his mother.

When his mom, a retired waitress, ran short on cash for presents one Christmas, Long was the first to comfort her with a big hug.

"He gave me a hug and said, 'Don't worry about it, Mom. Everything is going to be OK,' " Curtiss said.

He also loved sports, and he started wrestling as a boy. He was competitive on the mat, but he was also compassionate.

At age 10, he allowed another wrestler, who was blind, to pin him during competition.

The other boy's "mom came over and gave (Long) a big hug and said it meant so much," Curtiss said.

Long attended elementary school in Burns and graduated from Cheyenne's Triumph High School in 1993. Afterward, he served four years in the Navy and later joined the Army, where he intended to make a career.

Family tradition

Several of Long's relatives have served in the military over the years, but only his grandfather, Charles Long, has been a career military veteran.

"He told his grandpa, 'I'm going to make you proud of me. I'm going to be the first one to stay until I retire, just like you,' " Curtiss said.

While in the Army, Long continued to reveal his compassionate side. When a friend committed suicide, he spent several days offering help and comfort to the man's family.

When his mother became too ill to work, Long helped cover the cost of her medication.

"That's just how he was," Curtiss said. "I don't think there was anything that kid wouldn't do for anybody."

In fact, Long told his mother that he wasn't sure he would be able to kill the enemy if the moment came. It was a concern of his.

"I don't think Brian could hurt a hair on your head," his mother said.

During a two-week break from the military, Long bumped into his future wife at a restaurant in Cheyenne. The two had dated in high school.

Long bonded instantly with Brenda Long's daughter from another relationship, Sydney, and he adopted her just before his first tour in Iraq.

"To her, Daddy could do no wrong, and to him, she could do no wrong," Curtiss said.

Brenda Long gave birth to the couple's other children during the two years Brian Long served in Iraq. Shelby was around 3 weeks old when Long first went to Iraq. His only son, Sage, was a few months old when Long began his second tour.

Before his final deployment, Long bought each of his children a teddy bear that recited a recorded message in his voice. He sometimes read stories to them on a live satellite link.

Long, who served with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, missed his children desperately and had trouble speaking of them on the phone from Iraq, his mother said.

"He was a good daddy, and a good husband and a good son," Curtiss said. "You couldn't ask for anybody better."

Perhaps because he missed his children, Long took a special interest in helping Iraqi children, Curtiss said.

Long's final letter to his mother contained a photograph of him handing a teddy bear through a fence to a small girl. A note with the photo said, "See, mom, I'm trying to help out as much as I can."

Curtiss was proud of her son's military service. The Navy had been good to him, and she supported his decision to make a career in the Army.

"It was just a life he came to know, and he really enjoyed doing his job," Curtiss said.

But she became concerned when coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003. She had witnessed her mother's anguish during her father's service in Vietnam, and she was scared for her son.

She even asked him to consider taking a combat deferment, which she said is permitted for men who have no surviving brothers. But Long declined, saying he wouldn't abandon the other soldiers in his unit.

Long's second tour in Iraq was the hardest for Curtiss. Bad dreams troubled her, and she often worried for her son's safety.

Long wasn't thrilled to be fighting in Iraq, either. He was concerned that U.S. political leaders didn't understand what was happening on the ground in that country, his mother said.

"He felt like it was a losing battle," Curtiss said. "He said, 'They've been fighting over here for thousands of years, and I don't know now what progress we are really making.' "

But Long was a soldier, and he stuck to his job, even when the military extended his second 12-month tour by three months. Had he been home as scheduled, in early June, his life might have been spared, his mother said.

"I really just feel like if they would have sent him home when they were supposed to, this would never have happened at all," Curtiss said.

Long's family is deeply grieved by his death. His sister, Sheets, wept as she explained that her brother was her best friend. He had stuck by her and written her letters during the hardest episodes of her life.

"I don't know what we're supposed to do," Sheets said. "I don't know how life is supposed to be without him."

Long's grandfather, the Vietnam War veteran, was too shaken up even to speak about his grandson's death.

On Tuesday, Curtiss shuffled through a pile of family photographs, recalling snapshots of Long's brief life and wondering how she will live life without her good-hearted son.

From the Billings Gazette