Employee Spotlight: From 91 Firing Party Funerals in D.C. to Being Wounded in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Veteran Brad Dunkelberger Now Works at J.B. Hunt.
In the United States, more than 3 million high school students graduate each year. Of those students, around 100,000 join the military. Brad Dunkelberger, an EPS scheduler at J.B. Hunt, was one of those students.
Brad said he grew up wanting to join the military, but when the wars broke out after September 11, 2001, he felt like it was his generation’s duty to serve.
Joined Marines After Graduating From Fayetteville High School
So in 2005, Brad, who grew up in Fayetteville, Ark., graduated from Fayetteville High School and made the trek to San Diego for boot camp. From there, he went into the infantry and was picked for “8th and I,” so he made the move to Washington, D.C., where he lived for 1.5 years.
Life in D.C.
Brad’s life in DC was a whirlwind of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery –91 firing party funerals and numerous other funerals, along with Sunset Parades at the Iwo Jima Memorial. A highlight of his tour was Brad’s platoon winning a competition and being able to travel to France and participate in a ceremony at Belleau Wood, where the historic battle for Belleau Wood was fought in 1918.
“When President Ford died, it was an honor to be part of his funeral,” Brad said. “I was able to be there when he was escorted off Air Force One.”
While he was in D.C., Brad did all of his field training at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Some of his other memorable experiences during this time were being close to President George W. Bush when he came to an Evening Parade and again on the Memorial Day wreath laying in Arlington, meeting Chuck Norris and seeing the Queen of England.
Deployment to Afghanistan
In 2007, Brad left D.C. and went to Twentynine Palms, Calif., or the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, where he was in the infantry in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. In the fall of 2007, Brad found out he was being deployed to Iraq. However, this changed, and in April 2008, he was deployed to Nowzad, Afghanistan in the Helmand Province.
“The whole battalion deployed,” Brad said. “We were among the first Marines to go back into Afghanistan and the first Americans to operate in our area.”
Initially, Brad’s unit was working with the British and the Estonians, and they were supposed to be trainers for the Afghan National Army (ANA). However, Brad said they ended up getting into combat almost every day.
On June 15, 2008, Brad was shot twice during a major assault on a Taliban supply position. Before getting shot, Brad said they saw a rocket propelled grenade fly over them and they were getting shot at by enemy machine guns, so they went down into a trench.
“I could feel my nerves start to lose control when I started thinking about what was going on, and I had to gain my composure. You don’t want to let down your platoon and all the Marines who have been in combat before you,” he said. “We were in groups of four, and my turn came to run out of the trench across an open field. We just had to hope we didn’t get shot. You hear the snap of the bullets overhead in the rifle pits when you’re doing qualifications, but it is different when you’re in actual combat.”
At first, he said getting hit wasn’t painful. “I didn’t know what happened. When I was shot, it almost felt like one of those balloons that clowns use blowing up in my leg, which was from a bullet. It instantly went numb, burned, was cold at the same time, and I felt the wetness from the blood.”
Brad called out, saying he was hit, and then he passed out. “I woke up when someone was dragging me back, and then it was hazy for a while.”
To get him out of the combat zone, his fellow Marines were shooting a 50 caliber machine gun over his head from an armored gun truck to suppress the enemy. “I’m still good friends with the corpsman who initially treated me on the battlefield.”
After Brad was taken out of the combat zone on a Blackhawk helicopter, he was medevaced to Camp Leatherneck where he spent a week in a British hospital. From there, he went to Bagram in Eastern Afghanistan where he spent a few days at the American hospital waiting for a flight out of the country. Next, he went to Germany and then back to the United States, where he spent a week at Balboa Hospital in San Diego. Brad then spent a month in the wounded warrior battalion program in San Diego.
Brad was wounded the first 2.5 months out of an 8 month deployment. His unit was in Afghanistan until November 2008 and was involved in heavy combat daily. During the 8 months, 20 were killed and 200 were wounded, including 30 amputees.
For the rest of his time in the Marines, Brad went back to Twentynine Palms, where he worked in administration. He was honorably discharged as a corporal in June 2009, and went to college at the University of Arkansas that fall.
Life After the Marines
While in college, Brad was also in the Individual Ready Reserve with the Marine Corps Ready Reserve and finished last summer. In December 2012, he graduated from the U of A with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Brad is proud of his military experience, which he said taught him many things—from leadership and the importance of relying on others while working as a team to living in other countries—and that he doesn’t like to run.
Despite being wounded during combat and still having shrapnel in his leg, Brad said he never regrets joining the Marines.
“I would do it again even if I knew what was going to happen,” he said. “It’s something I’m proud of and glad I was able to go through the experience.”
Story by Allison Ruff