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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘A big hug from this community’: Hayden welcomes soldier injured in Afghanistan

The crowd waves flags during the welcome home escort for Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Sharp in Hayden, Id. on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Brian, a Green Beret, was injured in a battle in Afghanistan and later awarded the Purple Heart. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

More than 100 people braved rain and traffic Friday morning to line the sides of U.S. Highway 95 in Hayden and welcome a wounded soldier to their community.

That soldier, Brian Sharp, is a U.S. Army Green Beret and sergeant who was ambushed and injured earlier this year while serving in Afghanistan. Five of his team members were either killed in the same battle or in other action in the last several months, according to a statement provided by Sharp’s cousin-in-law, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Sgt. Erik Hedlund.

Sharp hails from Montana, Hedlund said, but he was heading to Hayden to visit extended family.

And he and his family were surprised Thursday with the news of a police escort, Hedlund said. They continued to their destination without stopping to meet the crowd. In a statement, Hedlund explained that Sharp and his family were still recovering from injuries and the events of this year.

Sharp was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but returned to the United States and was able to celebrate his daughter’s first birthday in the hospital.

Another Green Beret with Idaho connections – Dustin Ard, an Ammon, Idaho, native – died Thursday while serving in Afghanistan, according to multiple reports.

Hedlund and fellow members of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office organized a law enforcement escort for Sharp and his family from Stateline to Hayden. When Sharp arrived at the intersection of U.S. Highway 95 and East Lancaster Road in Hayden, the crowd that had gathered for him broke into cheers, waving homemade signs and American flags in his honor.

Ramona Grissom was one of the many Sharp supporters who had never met him. When she heard he was a wounded service member who would be visiting his family in Idaho and there was a way to show him support, Grissom took the day off work and drove from Athol to Hayden.

“Not all of us have been where he’s at,” she said. “But we’re still behind him.”

Many members of Grissom’s own family have served in the military, and she said she knows that both physical and emotional wounds from deployment can stay with a soldier and their family long after they go home.

“It’s not just him that’s affected,” she said. “It stays with the family for generations.”

Janette Villagomez and her son Christian held a large American flag between them. Villagomez said her husband had wanted to show support for Sharp as well, but he couldn’t get off from work the day before Labor Day weekend.

She said even though she didn’t know Sharp personally, it was important that he felt welcomed and that he’s supported.

“My heart goes out to them,” Villagomez said. “I just hope they get a big hug from this community.”

Sgt. 1st Class Will Lindsay and Spc. Joseph Collette were killed in the same ambush in which Sharp was injured.

According to an Associated Press report from shortly after the incident in March, that battle was under investigation and Collete and Lindsay were the third and fourth American military service members killed in combat in 2019. According to the New York Times’ Casualty Report, the conflict was in the Kunduz Province of Afghanistan and was a joint operation with Afghan forces.

While Sharp was in recovery, his team members Master Sgt. Michael Riley and Sgt. James Johnson were also killed. More recently, Sgt. Major James “Ryan” Sartor, a mentor to Sharp, was killed as well. According to a statement from Kootenai County’s Sgt. Hedlund, Sartor had saved Sharp’s life and was a close friend.

As vehicles drove past the crowd of supporters, many honked their horns and some stopped to join. Lynda Putz, a Hayden resident who was driving her family to breakfast, said she initially thought the crowd was a Trump rally, but immediately joined in when she realized it was a gathering to show support for a wounded service member.

“This is why we moved to a small town,” she said.

Putz said in California, where she moved from, crowds likely wouldn’t gather in the middle of a workday to welcome a single soldier.

“This is how we’re supposed to take care of each other,” she said.

Susan Manthey, a woman who was holding two American flags in support of Sharp, said it’s important for veterans to know the community is thinking about them, especially considering the mental health issues and suicide rate of returning veterans.

She said she hoped that when Sharp and his family saw the crowd gathered just for them, they’ll know they’re appreciated. She said the temporary discomfort of poor weather was nothing in comparison to what many service members and their families have already been through.

“Soldiers have been through worse,” she said. “So we can stand in the rain for a little bit.”