A labor management and employee relations manager with the APG Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, or CPAC, who also is a veteran of the Iraq War, was recently recognized for his service to the nation during a National Football League game.
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Kevin Brackney did some work in stone masonry and construction before joining the military in 2004. The same year, he trained at Fort Gordon, Georgia, at the U.S. Army Signal School as a 31Q communications specialist, and then reported to his first unit in Germany in early September. Two months later, he deployed to Iraq.
“We were logistics so on an average day, not a lot happened,” Brackney said of the first of two deployments to the war zone. “Sometimes we got small-arms fire and stuff like that. When things did happen, a lot of times we weren’t really able to open up because our 50 [caliber machine guns] cause a lot of damage. So when we took fire, most of the time, if we couldn’t identify a target we just kind of ducked down.”
He said attacks typically included anything from Molotov cocktails to rocket-propelled grenades.
“It was a brand new environment,” he said.
Brackney returned in 2005 then redeployed with a different unit out of Germany in 2007; this time to Baghdad. By then, he was a sergeant and a squad leader.
“It changes the mission when you’re responsible for others,” he said, adding that camaraderie, especially within his platoon, was extremely high.
“We were the ‘bad news bears of the battalion,’ he smiled. “We looked out for each other and we stayed motivated. We kept each other out of trouble and all of us returned safely.”
He returned in late 2008 a changed man. At first, all he noticed was “sleeping issues,” but there was more.
“Everyone’s brain is different,” he said. “Everyone accepts input differently and responds and even remembers things differently.”
Brackney was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He squared his jaw and struggled through it for two years before his wife Gianine, told him about an organization she’d heard about, Puppies Behind Bars.
After she told him how the organization had helped another veteran, he contacted them and filled out an application. He said he was surprised by the thoroughness and attentiveness he received.
“They don’t just drop you off and leave you,” he said, “you actually go in and train with each dog.”
Puppies Behind Bars, PBB, flew him to its New York headquarters and put him in a hotel for two weeks at no cost while he trained with the service dog they had chosen for him. He said a match with a service dog may or may not work out the first time, but his was on target.
“Everyone kind of vibed with their own dog and she was a perfect match for me,” he said of his dog Nyma, adding that her name stands for New York Military Academy.
“The organization is amazing,” he said. “There is so much love and devotion for veterans. They see us as still having something to offer society. Not everybody gets it, but they do. It’s about redemption. It’s about redeeming people and bringing them back”
He said he didn’t realize the void he harbored until he was matched with Nyma. He’s had her for five years and he says she is as much a part of his family as his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
“I had no idea she would fill a void,” he said. “She sleeps in my room and at home she’s a regular dog. I take her everywhere. When I’m upset, she will come over and put her head on my lap. Just talking to her and petting her makes me relax. And, she’s been great here at work. I’m a lot less introverted and a lot more open with her just being here. The command has really been supportive. As far as they’re concerned, we’re a team.”
On Oct. 22, Brackney was among of group of Puppies Behind Bars veterans who were recognized at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the National Football League game between the New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks. He said while it was nice to be recognized in such a large forum it was not nearly as satisfying as the work he does every day for those who support America’s warriors. Brackney holds three masters degrees, courtesy of the GI Bill. His job includes employee and labor relations that sometimes involve the Department of Veterans Affairs. He’s been in the position since August 2017 and he said he feels the same camaraderie with his coworkers that he felt with his fellow Soldiers.
“When they told me about the teamwork they had here I was sold on the place,” he said. “To come into this environment on a daily basis is very rewarding. Here is where we make things happen. Here, it’s all about teamwork. I’ve really been blessed and I feel like I have an obligation. When you’ve been blessed, you pass that on.”
Puppies Behind Bars
PBB trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded warrior veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement agencies. If selected, the veteran must participate in a 16-day “team training” in upstate New York. PBB pays for 100 percent of the travel and boarding costs associated with the training. For more information, visit http://www.puppiesbehindbars.com/.