Veterans Day: Soldier’s journey began on 9/11

Former MVU coach spends first tour atop Army Humvee

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By Roy Mercon, Messenger Correspondent

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ST. ALBANS — Jason Brace’s career in the military started 13 years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001. At the time, he was in college, working towards a degree in communications at the University of Southern Maine.

The St. Albans native was rousted out of bed that morning and told the stunning news of the vicious terrorist assaults on the nation. After the initial shock subsided, his plans for the future changed, taking on a much more serious path.

Brace, who has called Franklin County home his entire life, is now a staff sergeant with the 172nd Public Affairs Detachment based at Camp Johnson. His role is that of broadcast journalist, telling the ‘Army Story’ in combat and here at home.

Recalling what now is simply known as 9/11, Brace said, “My roommate, Ryan St. Cyr, said, ‘Hey, we should join the military,’ because he was sure there was going to be a war. I said, ‘Alright, that sounds like a good idea.’”

After an unsuccessful attempt at joining the Marine Corps (there was no position open in journalism at that time), Brace joined the ranks of the Vermont Army National Guard. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., then headed to a lengthy journalism school in Fort Meade, Maryland.

He had joined with the intent to deploy into active service, and on April 1, 2005, embarked, along with a small unit of Vermont Guardsmen, to Herat, Afghanistan.

While he thought he was heading overseas to do what he had been trained for, the ever-changing needs of the Army meant he now had a different mission to complete.

Brace recalled, “I was to be a turret gunner on a Humvee, as well as a driver.” He was told that if he had time, he could do his journalism duties as a secondary mission.

Soon after arriving in Afghanistan, he earned his Combat Action Badge. During a routine patrol, his convoy was hit with an IED, or Improvised Explosive Device. While all survived that attack, the rest of the deployment wasn’t as fortuitous.

During his time in Afghanistan, Brace lost a dear friend to friendly fire. In a combat operation, Tom ‘Doc’ Stone was killed, after serving his country valiantly. At the time, Doc was Jason’s roommate.

Between deployments, Brace worked full-time at the 172nd PAD, finally doing what he had been educated and trained to do. Despite his service, He still felt he could give more to his community. In addition to his full-time job, the hockey enthusiast also coached and mentored the first champion varsity hockey team at Missisquoi Valley Union high school. Unfortunately for him and his team, he didn’t get the chance to see the championship game.

“Halfway through the season of winning the championship, I was called up again to go to Afghanistan.” said Jason, referring to the massive Vermont deployment, the largest since World War II. He was one of the few soldiers in Vermont to volunteer for that deployment, rather than being ordered to go.

In his second stint of duty, Afghanistan was more familiar to him, as he was tagged to lead the broadcast journalism section of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) in its duties.  He collected and packaged various forms of media depicting the actions of troops on the ground, then made it available to the public back home giving an informed perspective on what Vermont was doing.

Brace says that he would not have been able to succeed with the various missions without the unending support of Franklin County, his parents, and especially his wife, Desiree. He says they gave his deployment a greater purpose, and the constant communication he had with his wife specifically made his second deployment much easier than the first.

Though Brace says not a day goes by without him thinking of Doc Stone, it’s days like Veterans Day that make him take special pause.

“As a combat veteran, on special days you stop and think on the sacrifices you and your brothers- and sisters-in-arms have made for the freedoms that we all enjoy on an everyday basis. I’m extremely proud to wear the uniform day-in and day-out.”

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Roy Mercon, of St. Albans, is also a Vermont National Guardsman having served in the Middle East as a combat photographer and with Brace in Afghanistan.