Sports Editor’s note: This is a reprint from an article that ran June 3, 2018.
For the family and friends that gathered on the tennis courts of New Mexico Military Institute on Saturday and today, the games meant nothing, but it was a chance to share in the memory of Brynn Naylor. Naylor, a Goddard graduate, had his life taken too soon.
Today is about having a good time and to share laughs and bring out the best in each other in competition, but more importantly to keep his memory alive. Naylor wanted the people of Roswell to know he believed strongly in his faith and his country that he was willing to lay down his life for it. He felt in his heart that freedom wasn’t free and there was a price to enjoy the things America has to offer.
Naylor had several opportunities to go to college to play tennis, including the New Mexico Military Institute, but instead, he lived to his convictions and joined the Army. His unit, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson Colo., was deployed to Iraq in October 2006. His unit was due home in October 2007 but received an extension keeping them there through December. Naylor served 15 months on security patrol and ended up being there for 15 months.
“He should have been home three months prior,” his father Ross Naylor said. “He should have been home on Dec. 17-18. He was stationed in the middle of Baghdad; they call it the FOB, it was like a house with an Alaska barrier built around it. It’s a big two-story compound thing, they weren’t in the green room they were right in the middle of where all the action was. They made a fortress out of the house.”
Brynn had already sent a lot of his military gear home — he was only going to be there another week. His unit was not going on any more missions. All he had to do was a six-hour guard duty in a tower upon the roof of three guard towers.
“I kind of let my guard down,” Ross said. “I figured he made it. I was sweating every day he was over there because in July, Brynn’s roommate Baylis was killed and his best friend Murphy had his arm blown off.”
Naylor had just celebrated his 21st birthday on Dec. 2, 2007, and decided to re-enlist on December 12th to work on his goal of becoming a Chaplain. The next morning on December 13th, as Brynn went into the tower for his final guard duty from 6 a.m.-12 a.m., he made his radio analysis of the situation noting that he saw some firing in the distance. A member asked him what he wanted for breakfast, Brynn radioed his reply. Not five minutes later when the food was delivered to him, he was found dead, killed in action by a sniper’s bullet.
“The last picture on his camera was his re-enlistment,” Ross said. “I’ve got it hanging on my wall. His future plans were to become a Chaplain. That was news to me because he hadn’t told me. I did not talk to him for four or five days.”
For Brynn’s father, Ross, December 13 started out like any other day. He was driving his route as a FedEx contractor. He was delivering packages in December and gets a phone call from Brynn’s mother, D’Ann McGuire, and thought why is she calling me. Ross answers the phone and D’Ann is bawling on the phone. Ross asked her what was wrong and how bad was Brynn hurt. He also asked her where is he and what’s going on. D’Ann said no to his questions and added, “he’s in heaven.”
Ross went to his next stop and called the terminal and told them what happened. He drove home from Artesia in a state of shock. He doesn’t know how he got home only that he followed a set of headlights ahead of him. It was starting to get dark on the roads, along the way he called his mother, Sue and his father, Bob. When he got home, there were 20 people there along with Army personnel.
“The military really does an unbelievable job of taking care of their people,” Ross said. “They’re there for you, they do everything for you. They were there every day. The guy assigned to me was either at my house in the morning for the first four to five days or he called and brought food.”
Ross designed a memorial in Roswell. One of the things Ross was proud about was the support he received from the community. The Patriot Guard got word that there were going to be protesters and the service. The Patriot Guard built a wall to keep the protesters away from the memorial.
The army was flying Brynn into Lubbock, Texas in the morning and his memorial was scheduled for 2 p.m that day. Ross had friends that chartered a plane to fly over to Lubbock, and as his son’s plane was landing, his plane was landing right behind him. On his son’s plane was two pilots and his friend Murphy. They unloaded Brynn’s body from their plane to Ross’s plane in time to make the memorial.
At the memorial, his daughter Kelsey sang Toby Keith’s “American Soldier.” The twist in this story was her teacher, Kennetta from Mountain View Middle School, who was married at the time. Years later, they would end up marrying each other. Kennetta’s birthday is Dec. 13, the day Brynn was killed.
On the day of the funeral, it was a typical West Texas winter day, snowing and sleeting with the temperature 30 degrees. The funeral procession went from Shallowater, Texas, to Plainview, Texas. What amazed Ross was that for the entire way, the interstate was lined with people on both sides of the highway to pay their respects to his son. Farmers drove their tractors with flags hanging off them.
“One of the worst things about this,” Ross said, “I don’t want people to forget Brynn. People feel like it might upset me to talk about Brynn because it might upset me, but I will talk about him all day long. I want to talk about him. He was a good kid. All the tennis players were good friends and they hung out together.”
To get through the hurt, Ross and some friends stayed up all night talking about his son. One of his biggest regrets is that he will never be able to have grandchildren from Brynn. He has not gone to a lot of Brynn’s friend’s weddings, knowing that he will never be a grandfather.
“It was tough,” Ross said. “Because he was 21, all his friends and all my friend’s kids were getting married and it was tough to go to a wedding. It has gotten easier, but I didn’t go to them even though I was invited. It was pretty hard because I will never get to experience that. Time heals everything, but when you see your friends posting their grandkids on Facebook, it makes it tough.”
Ross says he couldn’t have made it without the help of his friends and family, and continues to lean on them to this day. One person who helped Ross was his brother John, former president of the Sunrise Rotary Club. The Club, which was started in 2004, voted to name the tournament: The Brynn Naylor Memorial Tournament, to honor his sacrifice. Brynn had played in the tournament eight months before his death.
Since May 2008, the rotary club has given over $100,000 to the Veterans Transportation Network of Roswell to assist veterans in getting to appointments in Albuquerque. Today, the rotary club will give $8,000 to the organization. In the past, they have given to CASA. Tournament players receive a T-shirt. The tournament used to be played at the Cahoon Park tennis courts, but with the growth, it has been moved to NMMI tennis courts.
“The main thing is I want to keep Brynn’s name out there,” Ross said. “We have a street where my parents live in South Springs — the county named it Brynn Naylor Dr. This also helps us do community service.”
During Brynn’s service, he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Commendation Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, and Combat Infantry Badge.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.